(credit: Saul Loeb/Getty Images)

(credit: Saul Loeb/Getty Images)


During the holiday season, chances are your inbox is currently being flooded with requests from charities requesting end-of-year donations. Many of these will be filled with heart-warming stories and significant reasons outlining why this particular cause should rise to the top of the pile and warrants your support. Most charitable appeals are legitimate, viable requests from non-profit organizations known to do incredibly meaningful work. Some will also inevitably be scams. Legitimate or not, it can be hard to determine where your support will do the most good. Holiday giving is important, but a buyer-beware mentality can help to serve both you and the charities needing your help the most. Do your due diligence before you donate. Here’s how.
 
Give From The Heart, But Check With Your Head First
Choosing a charity to support during the holiday season may be challenging, not only because of the vast number of requests you are receiving but also because you will inevitably be hearing from organizations that are unknown to you. There are over one million non-profits operating in the U.S. alone, so not recognizing a charity’s name does not mean they are not a legitimate cause. Nevertheless, end-of-year giving should be thoughtfully done. Unless you have time to sleuth out each cause, opting to support a charity you know and contribute to year-round might be a better strategy.
 
Pick a Cause That Is Important to You
Saving the whales is important, but if you recently lost a loved one to cancer, it may resonate more deeply for you to contribute to a cancer-related charity, at least this year. Charitable giving at its root is about saving the world in a very specific, unique way. Choosing a charity whose cause makes your heart feel good is paramount to your decision.
 
Know Who You Are Doing Business With
Treat your charitable contribution with the same significance you do with all of your high-ticket expenditures, even if you are writing a relatively small check. You wouldn’t buy a franchise, hire a potential employee or buy a car without checking out every salient detail you could get your hands on, from licensing to references. Your donation represents more than your heard-earned money. Once it changes hands, it becomes a promise that good work will be done on your behalf. Make sure the charity you choose at holiday time is poised to spend your money wisely. A number of organizations, such as Guidestar, the Better Business Bureau and Charity Navigator, provide salient knowledge about non-profits operating in the U.S., from number of years operating to filed complaints. Research the cause to determine where the money is utilized and what their track record of results is.
 
Make A List And Check It Twice
It isn’t only Santa who needs to analyze giving spreadsheets this time of year. Checking out a charity’s credentials is key, but so is deciding upon an appropriate gift level. Determine what you and your family can comfortably afford to give, and whether or not you wish your gift to be a one-time-only or recurring donation. Ask your employer if they have a matching gifts program so your contribution can stretch further. Identifying your giving level and budgeting for it helps to solidify its significance. The dollars you give to charity are dollars that will not be directly supporting your household, so make sure they work for you powerfully in a different way. Choosing a charity whose mission bolsters a cause dear to you, and determining that it is run efficiently and professionally, will make your donation dollars well spent as well as satisfying.
 
Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.


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