Recently some friends of mine were asked to join the board of a local social services charity. It's not a huge charity - maybe $25 million in annual turnover - but I was still surprised. After all, they're not dramatically wealthier than us, but clearly they donate more to this particular charity (which is also one of our giving priorities). I ended up asking a bunch of my friends how they think about charity and I was pretty surprised at the range of responses.

Some of them (including the aforementioned board members) took a very disciplined approach - they designated a fixed percentage of their gross household income for charity, and then distributed it to a relatively small selection of organizations to maximize their individual impact. I'd call these the 'tithers'. These were also much more likely to take volunteer or leadership roles in an organization they had 'adopted'.

Others were the complete opposite. They gave small amounts to large numbers of charities on an ad hoc basis, generally whenever an organization (or friend) asked for a donation. They rarely had a preset amount decided for overall giving, but were quick to accede to a request. I'd call these the 'givers'. They gave to a lot of Facebook causes, marathon races, people on the street, etc.

Yet others were somewhere in the middle: Often without a clear idea of how much they'd like to allocate but something vaguely formed, and with preferred organizations but no firm plan. I'd call these the 'diffusers'.

I started thinking about this a lot more because, first, my wife and I are finally in a position to make somewhat more substantial charitable contributions and, second, there's the possibility of windfalls in the future that might require a more carefully considered giving strategy. On the one hand, I think the 'tithing' approach has a lot to say for it - it's disciplined, organized, and probably more likely to result in substantial allocations. It also allows for a clear focus on impactful giving rather than a more nebulous effect by many small donations spread around. Yet on the other hand, I feel like it ends up being a bit impersonal. There's no spontaneous compassion driving a giving decision like might happen with the 'givers'; it's more akin to an automated payroll deduction to pre-selected asset allocations.

What are your thoughts? How do you think about how much you should give, and how it should be distributed? How do you handle windfalls (like an inheritance or realized equity stakes)?

I'll chime in later with some thoughts on how my wife and I currently structure things, but I'd love to hear others' approaches first.