Do You Have a Philanthropic Budget?

When you think about your charitable giving endeavors, how do you feel? Are you excited and energized? If you’re like many people, you may have a few core causes and organizations about which you’re especially passionate.

Now ask, does your actual giving align well with those passions, or do you feel pulled in different directions? Perhaps you’re overwhelmed by the vast needs out there these days, or maybe you’re inundated by requests from philanthropic-minded friends to join them in giving to the causes they support.

One way to help manage your generosity is to create a “philanthropic budget” that allocates the amounts and potentially also the timing of your giving. This can help you be more strategic and intentional about your philanthropic efforts. Having a well-planned budget makes it easier to prioritize the various donation requests you receive, and it also allows you to track your giving activity compared to what you’ve defined as the most important causes to you.

The categories in your philanthropic budget can be whatever resonates best with you. Here are some ideas to get you started:

Core causes

These are the causes and organizations that are nearest and dearest to you. They are the ones you happily support year after year. Usually, these causes are easiest for you to budget for because you know what your typical annual giving is and whether you’d like to increase or decrease that amount.

Exploratory philanthropy

This category is for organizations that are new, or at least new to you. Some people think of this as the “risk capital” portion of their philanthropy. With this approach, you can support causes that spark your interest and get to know them and how they steward your time, talent and treasure. One or more of these organizations could eventually transition to the “core causes” category.

Responsive philanthropy

The world is ever-changing, and society’s needs evolve as well. Responsive philanthropy is the category that you allocate to as a way of responding to the issues of the day. Charitable giving in response to natural disasters or recent news events can be included here.

Friends and family

Most of us have friends or family who ask us to support their favorite causes—and maybe you’ve done likewise. This is the category for the gala tickets or auction items you buy because your friends ask. Here, you can categorize things like the charity race your nephew runs in or the Girl Scout cookies you buy from a colleague’s child.

You might want to think of your philanthropic budget as a pie chart, assigning certain percentages to your giving. You could start by determining the overall dollars you plan to give or the hours you’ll volunteer and then delegating your money and time accordingly. Whatever design you choose, a philanthropic budget can add structure and strategy to your charitable giving, helping you make the most of your efforts and ensuring your most valued causes are well supported.


Hope Carlson, CFP®, CAP®

Hope Carlson, CFP®, CAP®

Partner, Wealth Advisor

Hope is a Partner, Wealth Advisor in our San Diego office. She joined legacy firm Dowling & Yahnke in 2017. She is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional and holds the Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy (CAP®) designation.

Prior to Dowling & Yahnke, Hope spent six years as the chief development officer at the Museum of Us, overseeing fundraising and marketing. She also served as the interim executive director for the San Diego Civic Youth Ballet in Balboa Park and for four years as a strategy consultant with the Boston Consulting Group.

Hope holds a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from Harvard Business School, where she was a Baker Scholar, graduating in the top 5% of her class. She also obtained her Master of Music in Vocal Performance and Literature from the Eastman School of Music and a Bachelor of Arts in Economics with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia.

Trained as an opera singer, Hope is passionate about music and the arts. She lives in La Jolla with her husband and two daughters.


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