In 2014 alone, $358.38 billion was given to charitable organizations. It’s often believed that most giving occurs during the holidays, but when asked, the majority, of those surveyed said they gave about the same year round.
Whether it’s the giving season or you’re just in a giving mood, determining the best charities to donate to can be a tricky question. Here are 7 steps to help you choose the right charity for you:
- Know the difference between charities, foundations, and nonprofits
Nonprofits are simply businesses whose purpose is not to earn money for its owners or shareholders. Charities and charity foundations are types of nonprofits. The key distinction to look for with charities and charity foundations is their 501(c)(3) status, which means the IRS has granted them tax-exempt status for their charitable work. Smart givers only donate to charities and charity foundations which have been granted this status.
- Utilize online databases
Once you know your values, it’s far easier to find charities and charity foundations to make your donation to. Resources such as GuideStar, which provides a searchable database of 1.8 million nonprofits, and Charity Navigator, which lists charities and evaluates their work, can help you begin finding charity foundations and organizations.
- Review their mission statement
Next spend some time familiarizing yourself with your top charities’ and charity foundations’ mission statements. Does it align with your own values? Evaluate the work the charity is doing; what progress has it made to accomplishing the objectives laid out in its mission statement? Don’t be too stringent when looking at progress, however, because some problems are very difficult to solve. Sometimes simply verifying that the charity is making progress and is dedicated to documenting that progress is enough.
- Conduct interviews
You may want to dig deeper by conducting interviews with your top two or three charities or charity foundations. Ask them how they feel about the progress they’ve made towards accomplishing their mission. Inquiring after the data they use to track that progress can be a particularly enlightening question as it will reveal how dedicated the organization is to recording their effectiveness and how accountable the hold themselves to their work.
On a more personal level, you may want to ask them how your particular donation will be used. Even if the charity you’ve chosen is making great progress towards helping families in need, you may feel your donation was undervalued if most of it went towards covering the charity’s operation expenses. Looking at how a charity manages its finances is a great way to help narrow down the best charities to donate to.
- A final note on comparisons
When comparing charities and charity foundations, make sure you compare like to like. Particularly if you’re looking at their finances, it’s important to only compare charity foundations who do the same kind of work. This goes back to the fact that some problems are harder to solve than others. The type of work the charity is doing will affect how they operate financially. It wouldn’t do to compare the financials of environmental charity foundations to wounded veterans charities as their missions are drastically different.
- Watch out for red flags
If a charity refuses to share information on its operations or seems unwilling to engage in an open conversation about its programs, find another. There’s no reason to settle for a charity you feel less than faithful in. Trust your instincts; if anything about the charity raises doubts or concerns, find another to donate to.
Determine your values
The next step in selecting where to donate household items and other used goods is to determine your objective in making your donation. Whether you’re planning to make a financial charitable contribution or donations of clothing or household items, before you make any decisions on when and where to donate, spend some time thinking about the causes that matter most to you.
For some this is animal welfare or the preservation of our wild lands. Others are environmentally inclined and may want to look for green charities. If you care about helping disabled veterans, look for charities for wounded soldiers or places to make purple heart donations. Whatever your values, there are charities or charity foundations out there who share those values and are looking for donations and support.