Our reasons for giving to charity are as individual as we are. Many contribute out of a desire to give something back to communities or organizations that have helped them in the past, such as an alma mater, a youth organization or a hospice. Some give because of personally held values, principles or religious convictions. Others hope to create a legacy that will last long into the future.

Whatever their reasons, Americans give generously, even in challenging economic times. Charitable giving statistics reported by the National Philanthropic Trust show that 65 percent of U.S. households give to charity. Americans gave $298.3 billion in 2011, a nearly 4 percent increase from 2010.

Although many families and individuals give generously, the vast majority doesn’t give in a planned way. Most employ a charitable-giving strategy once referred to as checkbook philanthropy and which could now be called click-and-give philanthropy with the evolution of social media and the ease of online contributions. This really isn’t a strategy, but rather the unplanned giving of small amounts to a variety of charities, commonly in cash and often in reaction to solicitations with the best pitches.

Nearly every day new opportunities to donate money are presented to us via email, Facebook and other online venues for everything from celebrity Kickstarter projects to friends participating in walk-a-thons. There are many worthy causes, and it is wise to earmark a certain amount of funds annually to support the efforts of your friends and families raising money for causes that are important to them, as well as for  disaster relief and other needs, as they arise.

Yet, those who also plan their charitable giving enjoy many tangible benefits, in addition to the satisfaction of assisting the charity of their choice. Planned giving is an organized approach that evaluates your personal values, selects charitable organizations and gift-giving vehicles that best reflect those values, and maximizes the financial and tax benefits of the gifts.

According to the authors of Giving: Philanthropy for Everyone (Quantum Press), making planned charitable gifts during your lifetime can increase the value of your estate to pass to your heirs, can convert non-income-producing assets into an income stream for you, and can delay capital gains taxes on the sale of highly appreciated property. It can also help you achieve specific education, business and family goals.

Still, only a quarter of affluent households make planned gifts, according to a survey by Giving Capital. Why don’t more people plan their giving? There are several reasons. Among the most common is that planned giving takes time. Many people know little about the details or benefits of planned giving, so they put it off. Many also perceive planned giving as too complex and too expensive, and some worry about jeopardizing their own financial situation through giving.

A comprehensive giving plan can address all of these obstacles and concerns, while allowing you to make a positive and lasting impact to a charity that is important to you.