Making charitable contributions is an important way to give back to our communities or to causes and organizations that inspire us. Giving should be a part of any financial plan. Just as you will do research to determine the best investments or insurance for your situation, you should also plan your charitable contributions carefully. After all, money is hard-earned, and you’d want to maximize the impact of your giving dollars.
Here are three steps to determine how to select which charities to give to:
1. Determine what causes matter the most to you.
Some people are passionate about environmental conservation, while others want to help impoverished children go to school. Some people focus their dollars at home, others give regardless of geography. As for me -- I feel strongly about women’s issues. I just cannot imagine what it was like one or two (or three, or four) hundred years ago when most women wielded the barest of economic, social or political rights. In fact, in many parts of the world, women still don't have those rights, they are still treated as second-class citizens and are subject to discrimination, or worse, systemic subjugation and violence. This knowledge has inspired me to put my money towards causes that advocate for women's rights.
2. Narrow down your potential charities with research.
Some charitable choices are easy –- for example, I contribute every year to my alma mater, because I appreciate everything my college has done for me, and I want to give back. But for women’s issues, I’m not quite sure which organization is best.
Every cause has flagship organizations that are most well-known. For example, people passionate about human rights can donate to Amnesty International, those who want to help protect civil rights can contribute to American Civil Liberties Union, and those who want to give to disaster relief have heard of Doctors Without Borders or American Red Cross. Micro-finance lending has been a popular philanthropic area, with Kiva as the leading micro-finance organization.
Aside from the large institutions, however, there are many less well-known but equally worthy organizations. If you are not sure of what organizations you want to give to, take a look at Just Give, a Web site that provides a guide with 1,000 charities grouped into 19 categories to make your search easier ( the top 10 categories are Human Rights, Animals, Environment, Education, Healthcare, Children, Peace, Arts & Culture, Disaster Relief and Women’s Issues). The Web site also gives you the option to search for local charities in or near your ZIP code. You can also search JustGive’s database of over 1.5 million charities by name, keyword, tax identification number or location.
3. Check the charity’s grade.
Before you contribute a dollar to an organization, it is a good idea to do your due diligence. Not all nonprofits are created equal –- some places spend a large portion of their donations on solicitations or advertising costs, while others reserve more money towards helping their constituents. Fortunately, it’s easy to do your research by checking Charity Navigator, America’s largest charity evaluator. Charity Navigator measures nonprofit foundations based on their organizational efficiency (which includes percentage of donations that goes to administrative / overhead expenses) and organizational capacity. Nonprofits are awarded zero to four stars based on Charity Navigator’s evaluation.
From JustGive, I found the Global Fund For Women, an international network based in San Francisco that advocates for and defends women’s human rights. Charity Navigator gave this charity four stars –- the highest rating available -- so I can give with confidence.
Charitable Donations to Haiti Relief Effort Tax Deductible for 2009 [Think Your Way To Wealth]
Our Giving Plan [Tired But Happy]
How to Find a Good Charity [Amateur Asset Allocator]
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