Many people make charitable contributions, usually by writing checks. However, there are more tax-efficient ways to benefit your favorite causes.

During your lifetime. If you can, donate appreciated securities. Say you want to give $1,000 to your alma mater this year. You hold $1,000 worth of stock you bought years ago for $500.

That stock really is worth only $925 to you. If you cash in the shares, you’d have a $500 long-term capital gain, taxed at 15 percent. By donating the shares, you’ll get a $1,000 tax deduction and your tax-exempt alma mater will get $1,000 to spend after selling the stock.

In your estate plan. For charitable bequests, use money in your IRA. If you want to leave $10,000 to your alma mater, designate the school as a $10,000 beneficiary while the rest of your IRA goes to loved ones. IRA withdrawals are usually taxable to human heirs but a charity can receive money without owing income tax.

By using your IRA for charitable bequests, other assets of yours can pass to relatives and friends. Those assets can be tapped without owing income tax; if your heirs inherit appreciated assets, they can sell those assets and avoid tax on gains during your lifetime.