The field of personal philanthropy is changing rapidly -- just as quickly as the tech and finance sectors. As with these others, following the shifting trends in charitable giving is demanding because the sector is broad and far-reaching, operating at all levels of scale. Meanwhile, sound guidance on how to donate effectively is surprisingly hard do come by, which is my purpose in writing for The Motley Fool. Here are a few of the trends that are affecting philanthropy today and how you can use them to inform your own gift decisions.

Big, big donors will keep stepping in, and they're invested in sharing their knowledge
The Giving Pledge campaign, which was started in 2010 by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, invites the world's wealthiest individuals and families to commit to giving more than half of their wealth to philanthropy or charitable causes either during their lifetimes or in their will. The Pledge continues to grow: It now has 122 signatories. Some of these top philanthropists are keen to share knowledge, which anyone can use to be more skillful in their giving, so keep an eye out for guidance in their remarks to the media.

The most prominent player in philanthropic education is The Learning By Giving Foundation, started by Warren Buffet's sister, Doris Buffett. That foundation created Giving With Purpose, an academically rigorous full-credit course in effective charitable giving that is offered at top U.S. universities. In 2013, with cooperation from Google, the foundation launched a free "massive open online course" version of the Giving With Purpose curriculum. More than 10,400 people from 111 countries participated. It combines easy access to learning on your own schedule with enough depth of information to identify high-performing nonprofits. You can even register for the next open class now.

Mark Zuckerberg. Source: Flickr user Guillaume Paumier.

The top philanthropists are getting younger
Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan gave nearly $1 billion in charitable gifts in 2013, including a gift of 18 million shares of Facebook stock, topping annual lists of charitable donations. At 24, Zuckerberg represents a new and young cohort of the very top philanthropists, which includes former hedge fund manager John D. Arnold and his wife Laura, along with Google founder Sergey Brin and his wife Anne Wojcicki. According to recent studies (link opens PDF), millennials (people aged 20 to 33 years) are making an impressive early showing in charitable giving, so we can expect this to grow at all economic levels. It is impossible to predict the effect of this trend on a younger demographic in philanthropy, but here is how it might inform your giving.

If you are under 40 years of age, no matter your giving capacity, consider making a plan to increase the amount and strategize your charitable gifts. If you are among the baby boomers or a previous generation, discuss your experiences in charitable giving with a younger colleague. It will probably benefit both of you.

Mobile, online, and social-media giving are ramping up
Nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations know that as younger and more tech-connected people join the givers to their organizations, they need to improve access to online and mobile givinge. The Chronicle of Philanthropy reported last June on a study of data from online-fundraising processors serving 115,000 nonprofits. In the study, online donations rose 14% from the previous year to $2.1 billion. The report also shows that nonprofits are using and assessing various approaches to reach supporters and get them to give; some of these nonprofits are much more successful in online giving than others.

First of all, you shouldn't evaluate a nonprofit's effectiveness based on how quick and easy it is to make a donation electronically or how many device platforms it offers. It is best to identify organizations whose missions you are passionate and that have some proven their ability to achieve their stated goals. If they don't offer your preferred method of giving, then give in another way -- but contact them and request that they add some donation functionality. If they can, they will certainly try to accommodate you.

Your charitable gifts are investments, too; make sure they are effective in 2014.