Warren Buffett’s 4 Steps to Giving to Charity

Allison Kade
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Credit: Flickr/Fortune Live Media

We’re big fans of legendary investor Warren Buffett, so when he announces that he wants to teach us something—for free, no less—we take note.

He and his sister, Doris Buffett, are a dynamic duo when it comes to charitable giving: Last year alone Buffett gave away $3.084 billion.

Now the 83- and 85-year-old siblings are hosting a free online course called Giving With Purpose about how to maximize what we give to charity and follow in their pretty generous footsteps—you know, at your own pace.

One of the most frequent excuses you hear around charitable giving is, “I don’t have enough money to make a difference.”

But individuals were the single greatest source of charitable giving in 2012, at $228.9 billion, according to Giving USA.

I enrolled in the six-class course to see what it was all about. Would it entice me to open my wallet even wider?

RELATED: Why I Give 10% of My Salary to Charity

For me, the biggest takeaway from Giving With Purpose was the “RISE Framework for Social Change,” developed by Rebecca Riccio, program director of Northeastern Students4Giving at Northeastern University and author of the course’s lectures. RISE is a fancy acronym representing four things to look for when deciding whether a given charity merits your contribution. Often, where to start and whom to give to are the only things stopping us from being more charitable. This four-step process can help you decide.

1. Relevance

We’ve all been hit up for donations by friends, coworkers and roommates’ aunts who are going to rock that walkathon. Sometimes, we give based on our gut or happen to love the person doing the fund-raising. That’s fine, but you want to avoid blowing your give-to-charity budget without absolute confidence that your money is making a real difference.

Start by clarifying what motivates you, says Buffett. Giving With Purpose recommends some questions to help you. Here, a few good examples:

  • What issues do you care about, and why do you want to support them?
  • How does your sense of community factor into your giving?
  • Do you see giving as a way to support family and friends by contributing to the issues that are important to them or have touched them personally?
  • Are there organizations or institutions you feel an obligation to support because of your personal affiliation or use of their services, such as your alma mater?
  • Where do you want to make a difference? Locally, nationally or internationally?
  • Are there specific problems or issues you feel compelled to help address, such as education, health, hunger or the environment?
  • Do you prefer to address persistent needs like homelessness or those that arise unexpectedly, like humanitarian crises and natural disasters?