How to Give to Charity

A few years ago I decided that the way we were giving to charity was not working and really wasn’t helping most of the organizations we were supporting. One year we had 27 different organizations that we put into our tax return; and this was only cash gifts.

Something had to change, so I decided to think through how to be a better donor and to actually help organizations. I hope this helps you and your family figure out how to give money away more thoughtfully.

Select Charitable Giving Buckets

The first thing I did was make a list of the different types of charitable giving sectors and came up with this list:

  • Religious
  • Educational
  • Arts
  • Health
  • Social Good

These are really the only main giving sectors for deductible giving. I won’t get into political and/or advocacy/issues based orgs in this post. Give to those organizations last to maximize your deductible gifting.

Determine the TOTAL amount of Charitable Giving for the Year

You need to get a dollar amount that you will budget for giving for the year. Pick a percentage of your salary (either gross or net) and do the math. Then you’ll get a number. Here is a sample:

Billy and Sue make $100,000 net and decide to give away 15% of their net: $100,000 * 15% = $15,000

Now the Bill and Sue have $15,000 to distribute between their 5 buckets. You may think that means each bucket gets $3,000; and that could be a good way to do it for you, but I suggest a different way.

Rank your Buckets

This is where things get tough. My advice is to rank your buckets in order of your family’s priorities. Bill and Sue decide that Education is the most important followed by Health, Religious, Arts, and finally Social Good.

The purpose of ranking the buckets is so your charitable giving reflects what you value the most. You don’t even have to give to each bucket. Bill and Sue could choose to give all $15,000 to Education.

Pick your Charities

Bill and Sue are almost ready to start giving away their hard earned money. Here is where my giving system gets interesting: Pick ONE charity for each bucket. Yep…ONLY ONE!

This is the magical part of it, you can do so much more with a larger gift to one organization than with a ton of little gifts to many. A one time gift of $15,000 to one school will certainly be noticed or if Bill and Sue decide to do a monthly gift of $1,250 it will be noticed as well.

Why does this matter? It matters because if Bill and Sue are willing to give $15,000 to ONE school that school will want a bette relationship with Bill and Sue. That will give Bill and Sue opportunities to become more personally involved in the school’s leadership/direction, meet other people that are also passionate about that school, and more importantly make a HUGE different for that one organization.

Bill and Sue Before/After

Here’s what Bill and Sue looked like before implementing my plan:

  • Intended to give around $15,000 annually to charity
  • Actually gave around $11,000 annually to charity
  • Gave to the following organizations
    • Girls and Boys Club – $1,500
    • Cancer Walk – $25
    • Homeless Ministry – $50
    • Church – $5,000
    • Homeless Ministry II – $500
    • Cancer Walk II – $50
    • Injured Soldier Fund – $500
    • Charity Auction for Kids Camp – $1,400
    • School Annual Fund – $1,000
    • Booster Club – $500
    • Homeless Ministry III – $475

They gave to 3 different Homeless Ministries and 2 different cancer organizations. I’m sure these were all very good organizations and worthy of a donation, however, here is a better way for Bill and Sue to approach their annual giving:

  • Church – $10,000
  • School Annual Fund – $2,000
  • Homeless Ministry – $1,500
  • Cancer Walk – $1,000
  • City Art Museum – $500

They gave away all $15,000 of their intended giving and each group got a more substantial gift.

Alternate Approach

Using this template you can decide on several charities that you will support forever. You can plug in dollar amounts that you want to give and which order you will fill those buckets. Then you “fund” your giving buckets and when the money runs out you don’t give.


  • Religious – $10,000
  • Educational – $8,000
  • Health – $5,000
  • Social Good – $5,000
  • Arts – $2,000

This totals $30,000 in total giving. Bill and Sue would need to net $200,000 per year to continue giving at the 15% level and meet all of these desires. But in the meantime Bill and Sue know where each dollar goes first. With their current $100,000 net salary they are able to give $10,000 to their religious bucket and an additional $5,000 to their educational bucket.

Should they get a raise to $125,000 they would be able to give away $18,750. This means religious bucket gets the same $10,000, education bucket gets the whole $8,000 and they have enough left to give $750 to their health bucket.


This is a very malleable system. The core of the system is making sure that you have a maximum of 5 charities you are focused on in any year. This allows you to respond to good requests with: “I’m sorry, we have already allocated all our charitable dollars for this year.”

That sounds harsh, but I know an organization would rather not have drips and drabs into their general fund each year. They want long term committed givers and by saying no to the charities that aren’t in your buckets means you can say YES in a very meaningful way to the charities that you do select.

Doing it all Wrong and That is Okay

I was pinged by a friend last night with good intentions. “Austin, you need to make your blog more focused. You’ll never get a big following if you aren’t focused on a more narrow topic. And you need to write more consistently, you go weeks between posts and then you have a flurry of activity. And you post things on Friday and Saturday which won’t get you as many views.”

Now, I’ll be completely transparent here, had he said this to me a couple years ago I would have immediately sat down and tried to come up with a narrow topic and get a regular schedule. But, that really wouldn’t be a reflection on who I am.

I have varied interests, and because I have varied interests and a demanding job I am busy doing stuff. I write when I have something to write about, and I don’t when I don’t. As for followers and fans, I’m not interested. If they come, then so be it.

I am writing this post in the Delta Sky Club at the airport on my iPad. No images, no attempt at SEO, and certainly no attempt to do any sort of proofreading or editing. (Sorry to my writer friends.)

The older I get the more I believe that just doing something is better than doing it perfectly. If you want to write, just go write. No need to build your own little Walden or get the latest and greatest concentration writing app. 

Grab the text editor on your computer and go for it. (Oh, and let us all see it!!!)

I Quit Talk Radio and You Should, Too

Talk Radio used to be an obsession of mine. Whether political, sports, morning drive, or news there was nothing better to me than driving down the road and hearing what everyone was thinking. It would keep my mind engaged during late night drives in college the way music never could and it would feed me information in a way that television news didn’t quite have time to provide.

I went so far as to start my own talk radio show when I was in college. This was by no means an intellectual endeavor. In fact I’m sure my mother would be less than pleased with my choice of topics for my daily morning radio show.

But there I was, Monday to Friday from 7-10am on 90.5 FM WVMH in Mars Hill, NC. I didn’t know what the heck I was doing at first, but quickly realized how to draw and keep an audience and ratings grew. We did stunts and pranks around campus, got in trouble more than once for our content, and even started to beat actual for profit morning shows in our area with a budget that came out of my $200/month RA salary.

Once I graduated from college and entered my non-broadcasting career I continued listening to talk radio. All of my presets were talk stations and life was good.

A couple of years ago, however, that all changed. My wife asked my why I was so grumpy all the time and critical of everything. The quote that started me thinking was, “Why do you have to find the flaw in everything, even when its not really a big deal?”

I didn’t know where that was coming from, but I remember a morning devotion that my mom made us read when I was probably 8. The title of the devotion was “Garbage In, Garbage Out.”

As an aside, this one remembrance should serve as a HUGE clue to you parents out there that are struggling to get your kids interested in having daily devotional times. It works. I don’t remember all of the stuff, but that isn’t the point. I was immersed in a daily habit and by default some of that stuff sticks to you forever. My mom is now dancing for joy.

I knew that my natural bent was to be optimistic and positive, I’ve been like that my whole life. Who is this overly cynical guy that I had become? I began to think about where I was being influenced and I started paying close attention to all of the inputs in my life.

The only consistently negative inputs in my life came from talk radio. Political talk radio was no worse than sports talk radio or even the news. Morning drive was no better as they picked and picked at each other for days on end all while reveling in the misfortune and messed up lives of their listeners.

(I also had the realization that I was a part of that. Oops…sorry fellow students at Mars Hill.)

To test this theory I decided to cut out talk radio for a month to see what would happen. Almost immediately my attitude improved, my outlook on life was much more positive and all of the doom and gloom that had been predicted never came to pass.

Regardless of who the President is or whether or not the head coach is calling the right plays, the world keeps moving on.

I was asked to participate as a fill in guest on a political web show a couple of years ago and I had no hot takes to give. I bombed so badly with a lack of bombast that I’ve never been asked back. I just didn’t want to put garbage out there.

So, if you find yourself afraid, anxious about the future, angry, cynical, short with others, or even just numb. Turn off the talk radio.

Here are a few Podcasts that I suggest that are full of great information and knowledge without all the hot takes:

Quick word of warning: Just because these shows aren’t full of negativity doesn’t mean they don’t have some adult themes and talk about things that might not be appropriate for the whole family. A few of these shows have bad language as well.

The good news about each of these is that I feel like when I am done listening to them I’ve learned something about the world around me, or something about the human condition that I haven’t experienced, or I’ve laughed for the sake of laughing.

Your mileage may vary, but it wouldn’t hurt to give this a try.


Do you have a Plan for your Life?

My wife Courtney and I have been married for almost 7 years and since the beginning of our marriage we spend 2-3 days at the end of each year reviewing the year we had and planning for the next year. We talk about plans for vacations, jobs, faith, family, friends, and a host of other things.

We haven’t shared this with many of our friends and family members. This wasn’t an intentional thing, we just assumed everyone sat down and mapped out what they wanted their year to look like in advance. Last year a friend asked us to go to dinner and I declined by saying, “That’s right in the middle of our yearly planning time. You know how that is.”

Well, he didn’t know how that was. So I shared with him that we pick a word of the year to focus on, as well as spend a significant amount of time and detail planning what we are going to do over the next year. He was floored! And, I’m happy to report, very interested in doing that with his spouse.

Fast forward a couple of months and another friend was asking about similar things and then another friend going through a life transition asked Courtney how we thought about things. Obviously this topic has struck a major chord with a lot of people.

Well, I’m not going to share with you how Courtney and I do our planning, but that is for a very good reason. Michael Hyatt has written a book with Daniel Harkavy titled: Living Forward: A Proven Plan to Stop Drifting and Get the Life You Want and I believe it is the greatest life planning tool I’ve ever come across.

In fact, this book is so good that Courtney and I have both read the book and have decided to completely redo our planning not only for this year but well into the future as well. We have booked a cabin in the mountains for a weekend and we are going to get up there and spend an entire weekend creating our individual life plans and then combining them into a “Family Life Plan”.

I can tell you from personal experience that your marriage, work, friendships, family relationships, and personal well being will improve dramatically with a plan. If you want to know what our “secret” is, this is it.

And now you have a blueprint available for less than the cost of a movie ticket that you can use for your own life planning. No matter how old you are it is never too late to start living more intentionally. GO BUY THIS BOOK! You’ll be glad you did.

Impressive Atlanta Dream President – Theresa Wenzel

My favorite segment during the Business of Sports Summit was the panel of the leaders of the local professional sports franchises. I’d like to specifically point out that included on the dais was Theresa Wenzel the new President of the Atlanta Dream of the WNBA. I’m not going to do an in-depth post on each of the panelists, but she was by far the most impressive and deserves her own post.

This is important because not only is she a woman, she has what I consider to be the most difficult sports leadership job in Atlanta. Kudos to the Atlanta Business Chronicle for giving her equal weighting with NFL, NBA, MLB, and MLS team leaders.

Here are some thoughts I had during the event:

I still feel this way after sleeping last night. She was really impressive and has clear vision for the future. Of all the teams here in Atlanta I’d choose to work for her first if for no other reason than I’m always drawn to smart people and even more so when they choose the difficult task.

I don’t mean to imply that it is easy to run the Falcons, Braves, or Hawks, but with built in eyeballs (read: Revenue) the challenges are different.

In the spirit of full disclosure I am not a fan of the WNBA product and I have never been to a game. I plan to fix the attendance issue this year and I’m confident that the WNBA can improve the product.

May I suggest the first fix:

Screen Shot 2016-03-26 at 7.59.10 AM

When you play with a ball that looks like a cheap prize from a state fair game, it doesn’t look like a serious endeavor. I think the WNBA has growth potential, not as much as MLS, but still great potential.

One thing I got wrong yesterday:

The Atlanta Dream won the Eastern Conference Championship in 2010, 2011, and 2013 and still has trouble filling the stands. I don’t know enough of the nuance of the WNBA (and would love to meet some insiders to learn more) to say why, but the ball and other issues like it could be partially to blame.

Here’s another hot take from my gut – The WNBA needs to get away from “Girl Empowerment Marketing” and let the product stand on its own. Too many times I hear about bringing young girls to WNBA games to show them the potential, but while I’m sure that happens with women’s soccer, the product stands on its own and attracts fans across gender without pandering.

That’s enough on this topic, but I’m serious about meeting with some Atlanta Dream leadership members. Count me a fan of the organization and you’ll see me at some games this Summer.

Business of Sports – Fans vs. Business

This will be a shorter post than my olympics post because I’m not one to beat a dead horse and the concepts are pretty simple.

It should probably go without saying, but fans and ownership have different objectives. It is difficult for many fans to understand that sports are a business first and entertainment second. Obviously the owners want to win, but winning is less about the great feeling of being a winner and more about having a winner leading to increased revenue.

There are 365 days in a year, of those days the Super Bowl Champion and Runner Up will play games on 21 of those days. That leaves 344 days.

And that is what most fans fail to remember. The on field stuff is the sexy stuff that everyone loves, but lots of young folks go and get sports management degrees and then get disillusioned with how the sausage gets made. This is understandable because unlike most career paths, fandom is the first experience with the business of sports.

Don’t get a degree in sports management because you are a fan that wants to work for your favorite team.

Get the degree because you have an interest in the work. Advice from an MLB team employee I know: “I wouldn’t tell anyone I was a fan in an interview.”

Okay…back to the point of the post. Business is business even in sports. The goal is to make a profit and the game on the field is almost incidental. Ticket sales are a large percentage of the revenue for a team, but are by no means a majority of the revenue. That means more than 50% of the revenue for a team comes away from the field.

When your favorite team trades a player, drops a player, keeps a coach, or does anything that makes fans scratch their heads rest assured that a financial calculation has been made along with the implications for the on field product.

Team ownership is a long term investment and the nature of a long term investment is that sometimes you have to make decisions that may hurt in the short term to maximize the opportunity in the long run.

Please don’t hear me say that owners don’t care about the on field product, they certainly do as winning leads to revenue.

Gosh, this was a stream of consciousness post. I’m tired.

Business of Sports – Olympics

I’m sure that I’m breaking all kinds of blogging rules by dropping this post late on a Friday night and a Holiday weekend at that. I got to spend the morning at the Atlanta Business Chronicle’s “Business of Sports Summit” and really got my money’s worth.

I don’t have a grand plan for this as a series. I’ll start here with the Olympics and continue with posts on different topics from today. If you’d like more in-depth discussion on any of these topics happy to do that on Twitter or if you are in ATL we can hang.

The 1996 Olympic Games

One of the neatest things about today was having the opportunity to hear from Andrew Young (via video) as well as A.D. Frazier and George Hirthler about how Atlanta came to host the Centennial Olympic Games. I won’t rehash everything, but I tweeted this during the event:

Much of how Atlanta won the bid is the stuff of legend and I’m sure its been embellished, but watching the video was a great reminder of how Atlanta was a HUGE underdog and pulled off an upset all because a group of people said, “Hey, Atlanta should host the Olympics.”

This is the new reality for Atlanta. In all areas, not just sports. We are now leaders, the olympics vaulted us out of our underdog position and we are now learning how to lead from the front. My good friend @conorsen mentioned the beltline as our “new olympics”.

I agree, but would add things like Avalon/PCM/KSM to that. We are trying new things, they might not be global, but maybe we don’t need something global.

Additional thoughts about Olympics:

Painfully clear that the Olympics are now a burden for many places as opposed to a boon. From the stage Brazil is going to pull it off, but its going to be a mess getting there. Lots of unanswered questions about Zika, pollution, overall safety. Should be interesting. A.D. said Los Angeles will win their bid.

Long Held Beliefs about the Olympics

Conor encouraged me to blog about this, but I think it was mainly because he’s got a new baby at home and he’s tired of me blowing up his WhatsApp. We’ve carried on a lengthy dialog about stuff like this for the last couple of years and maybe I needed a kick in the pants to go public with my hot takes.

Back when China was scheduled to host the Women’s World Cup in 2003 the SARS epidemic caused the games to have to be relocated. The decision was made on May 3rd of 2003 to move the games to the United States. So we had to get everything lined up to kick off the matches by the end of September that year.

I was graduating from college and entering graduate school and I remember thinking about how the US can host just about anything field related on a moment’s notice due to all of the stadiums that we have around the country. As the cost for hosting the Olympics continues to rise, we will see more places like the US host the games in a rotation because we already have all the infrastructure needed.

It was mentioned today that the Ancient Olympic Games era lasted for 1200 years. I think we are quickly reaching the end of the Modern Olympics after just 120 years. The next era will look similar but have hosts in rotation. Look for that to happen before 2040.

An Argument for Public Stadium Financing

I haven’t been critical of public stadium financing, however, I have been critical of the WAY that some franchises went about securing that stadium financing. Let me be clear that despite my support for public stadium financing, I stand against having the financing arranged behind closed doors without public input.

I am writing this from a United States perspective. When I reference professional sports franchises I am only referring to these groups: NFL, MLB, and NBA. None of the other leagues move the needle here in the US. Not WNBA, NHL, MLS, or any other pro league.

Bad Reasons for Public Financing

Before I get into the reasoning for my support of public stadium financing, I want to provide some context for my argument by shooting down some of the reasons I consider faulty in building new stadiums with public funds:

  1. Future Tax Revenue – This argument is just lame. While it is true that a professional sports team can drive significant revenue, cities have multitudes of mechanisms at their disposal to attract additional tax dollars without the use of a professional sports team. If your city is large enough to support a professional sports team, then your city doesn’t need to try and sell the idea with the promise of future revenue.
  2. The Team Might Leave – Let them leave. This is a weak argument because by the time this argument is needed, you aren’t dealing with an entity that wants to be your partner. “If you don’t build a stadium, we will leave” is the sort of argument made by someone that just wants to get their way and isn’t partnering with the city. Call their bluff. Again, cities have options if they are large enough for a professional team.
  3. The Team Can’t Be Competitive without a New Stadium – This is just bogus. Universities pride themselves on the age of their stadiums. They don’t tear them down and build new stadiums, they cobble together improvements and renovations over the years and build shiny new practice facilities instead. The NFL should find something to be their proxy for a new practice facility, but a new stadium has nothing to do with being competitive.

The One Reason to Support Public Stadium Financing

A sports team is a luxury item that most likely costs a city money in the long run. It is like the top of the line sedan you buy when you make partner at your law firm, or the fancy watch you get when you make Managing Director at a Bank, or the country club membership you get when your last child is finally off the payroll at home.

This wasn’t always the case, but sports weren’t such a luxury item for cities back when the NFL, MLB, and NBA were getting started. Professional sports were a game with stars, but the majority of those stars needed to have a second job. If they didn’t need a second job, these players still lived in regular neighborhoods.

That all changed with television. What was once a game listened to regionally on the radio became the Braves being played on TBS coast to coast, same with the Cubs on WGN, and the Cowboys who were always the national team on television.

ESPN was founded and began airing highlights of all the teams, and eventually television rights to air games led to rabid fans in places far from a stadium. What was once a recreational activity for many families became “must see TV”.

So the cost of having a team has sky rocketed for both the owner of the team and the city where the team is located. So, why then should the city have to use the tax payers funds to build new stadiums? Why is this a good thing? If this is a luxury item, why should we be spending money like this?


The only reason that is acceptable for building a new stadium in your city is to signal to the rest of the world that your city is a good place to be. This is a place that has enough going on to afford a brand new stadium for your professional sports franchise. This is the best advertising money you can spend.

The Metro Atlanta Region is currently building around $2 Billion worth of new stadiums. Mercedes-Benz, State Farm, and Porsche are all building new corporate headquarters here in Atlanta. (Porsche’s was completed last year.) And while I don’t think that they made the decision solely due to the construction of new stadiums, I think that it spoke very loudly that Atlanta isn’t a place that is going anywhere but up.

When a company builds real-estate or has their logo placed on the side of an office building it makes a statement that they aren’t going anywhere. The same can be said for stadiums. It’s a flag to fly that shows commitment to the city and a long term bet on the future of that place.

So, if you want to finance a new stadium, don’t trot out a bunch of financial projections, or threaten to leave, or claim that you won’t be competitive. Go to the city and stand together the the Mayor and say to the people: We are betting on ourselves, we are betting on YOU, that our city is a great place. Make that bet with us and let’s show the world that we belong.


Hit and miss is an apt description of my blogging over the years. As with most people, I have the greatest of intentions to keep it up and blog consistently, but I haven’t taken it as seriously as I’d like.

I got up this morning and thought it would be great to jot down a few thoughts and when I went to log in and write it was nothing but a blank space. For someone without any formal training in HTML, PHP, etc. I tend to do pretty well on my own, but I was stumped this morning and unfortunately before reaching out for help, nuked everything.

As soon as I did reach out for help it turns out that my host had upgraded a setting and all it took was a simple fix for me to be back up and running, but the problem is that I had already nuked all my content.

No, I didn’t have it all backed up, but oddly I’m just fine with that. It’s a blank slate. Clean start. What could have been a disaster is actually a chance at a fresh start.

Here’s to a new start, a new blog, and hopefully some dadgum consistency.