As the holidays approach and the year quickly comes to an end, lots of people's minds turn to giving back to their communities and helping those in need. Plenty of businesses and schools put together food and clothing drives, toy bins start popping up all over, and of course there are the thousands of charities looking to receive monetary donations.
But with all the worthy causes out there, how do you determine which ones to give to? Is there any way to be sure that your money is going to directly help a cause? Are long-established charities a better choice over newly-formed ones? Is it even possible to question a charity without getting labeled a Scrooge? Here are some tips and suggestions to help make your holiday giving a little less stressful.
Think about what's important to you
There's no concrete way to determine if one charity is more worthy than another, as worthiness is all in the eye of the donator; one person's American Cancer Society is another's ASPCA. Take some time to determine the causes that are close to your heart and that you would feel the most comfortable supporting.
Do your research
For nearly every cause, there are dozens of charities supporting it, so you need to do some research to find out which charities are doing the most with their donor's dollars. A good place to start is on the Combined Federal Campaign website, which lists charities that are a part of the federal government's charity drive. In order to get on the CFC list, a charity must meet specific accountability standards, such as having low administrative costs and submitting for an annual audit.
Another helpful online tool is the Charity Navigator, which offers a recently updated rating system that evaluates "the Financial Health and Accountability and Transparency of America's largest charities." You can search for specific charities or browse for them by topic, and there are even handy Top Ten lists available if you're looking to donate to particular areas, like charities in deep financial trouble or celebrity-related charities.
There are also local charities to be found if you're looking to donate directly to your community. LiveStrong offers some helpful tips on finding local charities, like checking with the faith communities and contacting local government agencies.
While it may seem in poor taste to question a charity, it's not. You're donating your hard-earned money, and you have a right to know what exactly that money is going to be supporting. Once you've found a charity (or several charities) you're interested in giving to, it's a good idea to contact them directly--either by phone or email--to clarify any confusion before you hand over a check. Here are some issues worth raising:
When questioning your potential charitable donations, it's always best to trust your gut instinct. If a charity is pressuring you to give when you're just looking for information, or further research doesn't coincide with what a charity told you, it's probably best to find someplace else to donate to. The Federal Trade Commission has several more helpful tips for researching and questioning charities.
No amount is too small
Whether you have thousands of dollars to give to several charities, fifty bucks for your local food bank, or a quarter to drop in a Salvation Army bucket, no charitable gift is too small. Only donate what you're comfortable giving, and remember that there are plenty of other ways to give back if your budget is tight, like volunteering your time somewhere or donating your gently worn clothes. With a little bit of forethought and some insightful research, you can make the holiday season a fulfilling one for both yourself and those in need.