Like him or hate him, Jim Cramer gets people's attention. And whether he gets his picks right or wrong, he's done at least one thing that deserves the highest praise.

Every night on Cramer's Mad Money program, you'll hear about how Cramer owns some of the stocks he talks about in his charitable trust. For skeptical viewers, it's easy to dismiss Cramer's charitable trust as a shrewd marketing ploy -- especially since it's the basis for a subscription service he offers, in which he announces trades to subscribers before he makes them for his trust. Here are some of the stocks he's publicly announced owning, according to one watchdog website, along with their recent performance:

Stock Owned by Cramer Trust

1-Year Return

Abbott Labs (NYSE:ABT)

1.7%

Costco (NASDAQ:COST)

(14.7%)

Foster-Wheeler (NASDAQ:FWLT)

(68.3%)

Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS)

(59%)

Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ)

(2.5%)

PepsiCo (NYSE:PEP)

(23.8%)

Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT)

23.4%

Source: Yahoo! Finance.

As you can see, he owns a mixed bag of stocks, some up and some down. But regardless of how those picks have done, Cramer deserves the most credit for making the donation to charity in the first place.

Our appeal
Here at the Fool, we've just started our annual Foolanthropy campaign. This year, we're focusing on financial education -- or more accurately, the lack thereof -- in an effort to avoid repeating some of the problems that helped cause the current financial crisis. We've chosen four great charities that share our mission of teaching people how to better manage their money. And we want you to help us pick which one we should take on as our charity partner.

Whichever charities you support with your donations, it's useful to know all your options in supporting them. That's why I want to talk about how creating a charitable trust isn't nearly as complicated as you might think. It can help you not only do good for others, but also guarantee a steady stream of income for yourself and your loved ones.

How charitable trusts work
Obviously, the easiest way to give money to charity is to make an outright gift. You write a check or transfer shares of stock, and you're done. Simple.

But increasingly, people want to take a more active role in their philanthropy. They don't just want to make cash gifts and fade into the background -- instead, they want an ongoing commitment that involves constant evaluation and feedback. Also, wealthy individuals looking for tax-planning opportunities seek out strategies to take maximum advantage of charitable deductions.

That's where charitable trusts come in. They're incredibly flexible, letting you pick exactly what you want from the trust and which charities you want to support.

For instance, you can set up a charitable trust that will pay you either a fixed amount or a percentage of the trust assets every year for the rest of your life. You can start those payouts immediately, or defer them until after you retire or for a fixed number of years. As long as you meet certain IRS guidelines that apply to all charitable trusts, you have a great deal of latitude in choosing your trust's terms.

Give your investing prowess
Perhaps the most intriguing thing about charitable trusts for experienced investors: Like Cramer, you can continue managing the trust's assets on your own. Although the trust requires you to invest with the interests of the charity in mind, as well as your own, many investors find that meeting their fiduciary duties to the charity doesn't interfere with their own investing strategies.

Although it's a bit more complicated, you can also put off deciding which charity will get the trust's assets until a later date. That lets you evaluate how a charity works before committing your money to it, and it keeps the charity accountable to you.

I don't always agree with Cramer. But in my view, the single best thing he's ever done is to create a trust to benefit charity. By doing so, he's become an example to others interested in doing good around the world.

Foolanthropy 2008 is off and running! Learn more:

Fool contributor Dan Caplinger has worked with charities for more than 15 years. He doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned in this article. Johnson & Johnson is a Motley Fool Income Investor selection. Wal-Mart is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. Costco is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. The Fool's disclosure policy is a helping hand.