The holidays have become synonymous with giving, and what better way than to give to a charity?
Half of all annual charitable donations are done between Thanksgiving and the end of the year. With so many charities popping up through the woodwork this time of year, it is easy to just send a check with the assumption that it will be helping others.
It is sad that we have to think about someone taking our money under false pretenses, especially out of the pockets of those in need, but the reality is that we do. Not only this, but organizations, even if they are valid, are not always efficient enough and the majority of your money is spent on overhead costs and not on the actual mission they represent. Before you give, here are a few things to keep in mind to make sure your donation does the most good and actually gets to those in need.
1. Do a little homework. And I do mean a little. It doesn’t take long at all to look up a charity, to see if they are legitimate and also see how your dollars will get dispersed. We all know of many large and reputable charities, but do you know what they do with your money once it gets there. Look them up. CharityNavigator.org is a great resource to look up an organization and see how their costs are divided. It is important to give to organizations that have at least 60% of their funds going to the actual mission of the organization. The higher the better in this case, because this means that is the amount of your donation that will potentially be sent to what it is they are representing.
2. Contact them. While there are legitimate organizations that call, send mailings or emails as a way to solicit donations, it is more likely that this will be the method in which they follow up with you. If your first contact with an organization is in person, by phone or online where they are contacting you – go back to step one and do your homework. These can be legitimate, but these are also the ways that fake organizations or those with less than pure intentions tend to pray on those with giving hearts. It is okay to take their information and do your research, but do not (I repeat do not) give them yours. Don’t be fooled, just because a website is a .org, doesn’t mean it is legitimate.
3. Choose your donation. If you prefer, there are many ways to give. Monetary is one of the most common, but you can donate food, clothing, gifts, even a percentage of your regular shopping. Websites such as CharityMall.org give back just for shopping at your favorite stores online at no extra cost to you. This is a great way to do good without doing anything extra, and the money doesn’t come out of your pocketbook either.
4. Give what is comfortable. I always say that every little bit helps, because it does. Don’t feel pressured to give more than you are financially comfortable with. Often with mailers, you will be given options for your gift amount. Pick the one that fits your budget, or create your own. It is not about going into debt to help others, but rather to give of your extra to those that have a need.
5. Don’t get discouraged. This is a hard topic to discuss as it often leaves people wary of giving, and that is definitely not the intent. Don’t be so scared of being scammed or leary of an organization that you don’t give at all. All it takes is a little effort to ensure they are legitimate and then, give away. You can be cautious and charitable at the same time.
While the holidays are the biggest time for giving, that doesn’t mean you have to give now. Budgets can be tight this time of year for many. Just remember that giving isn’t limited to this time of year and is needed all year round. Charity of the heart is just as rewarding as charity of the pocketbook and volunteering is a powerful donation any time of the year.
“You will find, as you look back on your life, that the moments that stand out are the moments when you have done things for others.” – Henry Drummond