An Individual’s Guide to Charitable Donations

So you’ve got a little extra money, or you’ve decided to commit yourself to donating a certain percentage of your income to charity. Perhaps you or someone you know has been affected by some adverse circumstance and you want to do everything you can to ensure fewer people will have to endure what you’ve been through in the future. Whatever the reason, you’re looking for a charity to donate to. The first problem most people run into is the sheer volume of reputable, amazing organizations that need your help. So where do you start? Well… right here! Here are some tips for choosing the right charity to donate to.

1. What’s Important to You?

The first thing you’re going to want to do is figure out what is important to you. You have to make this decision with your head and your heart. This may be an extremely easy decision, or perhaps it’s one of the hardest. To navigate the issue, it’s best to search your past, your friends and family, and/or your community for causes that speak to your heart. We’ll get to your head later, but right now it’s about searching your heart. What has affected you? What has adversely affected those around you, and could that thing have been helped if people only knew more about the issue, the disease, etc? It may be education, animals, helping the poor, but whatever it is, make sure you’re passionate about it. Knowing your passions can not only help you decide where to donate your money but may potentially lead to contributing your time.

2. Mission: Understood

Charities are run by passionate, selfless people, many of whom were personally affected by the issue they’ve decided to found a charity around. This not only causes charities to be organizations of great energy but also to often be extraordinarily nuanced. They often focus on a particular aspect of a larger issue, and understanding what separates certain organizations from others around the same issue is key to donating to the right organization for you. The clearest way to do this is by finding the mission statement of the organization and reading it fully. Further, you may want to compare it to other organizations you’re considering. Which best reflects the kind of difference you want to make in the world? Which seems to have a better, clearer grasp on their mission? Knowing this can mean the difference between donating money to a charity that makes a difference (the vast majority are amazing) and donating money to a charity that makes the difference you want to make.

3. Is the Charity for Real?

Primarily, all charities do incredible work. They’re run by amazing people who often donate their own time and money to ensuring their charity’s mission is accomplished each and every day. Of course, there are exceptions, and unfortunately, those exceptions are the ones that often get the most amount of attention from the press. We’ve all heard the horror stories of charities that pay their executives exorbitant amounts of money while contributing very little of their donations to the causes they champion. So how can you make sure the charity you’re looking to support is legit?

First, find its letter of determination. While organizations like Guidestar are a way around this (if they’re not on Guidestar, that’s a red flag) the most foolproof way to check for legitimacy is to find the letter of determination. Second, find out what percentage of every dollar donated goes to the cause. For instance, if you are looking to donate money to a charity with a mission of feeding the poor, ask how much of your money actually goes to feeding the poor. The “acceptable” percentage is up to you (though overhead seems to be about 23% on average), but the organization knowing the number is a good indication that they are legitimate. Finally, trust your gut on this one. If there seems to be something shady, there probably is, and there are so many great causes out there that there’s no good reason to throw money at something or someone you don’t trust. Find an organization you can be passionate about, not one you have to monitor just to make sure your money wasn’t wasted.