Give A Little, Help A Lot: How to Choose A Charity

For many of us, parting with our money isn’t easy, especially when a sluggish economy shows little sign of reciprocating the generosity. But despite these hard times, your compassion toward others is still stronger than your aversion toward spending, and you’re ready to put your money where your heart is. If you haven’t chosen a lucky recipient yet, and you have no idea where to start, here are some helpful hints to consider before you send that charitable check off in the mail or drop a few bills in a bucket.

According to charity experts—yes, these people exist—it’s better to choose your own charity before a stranger approaches you about an unknown, or little known, cause. By doing the research yourself, you’ll feel more confident about what your generous donation is actually being used for. So for starters, use your head before you give from your heart.

Decide What’s Important 

What are you passionate about? Curing life-threatening illness? Animal welfare? The environment? Education? The list of worthy causes goes on and on. With such a slew of commendable charities all tugging at your heartstrings, you’ll most likely need to cut to the cause that matters most.

National vs. Local 

A common do-gooder dilemma is—is it better to donate to a smaller, local charity that benefits your community OR should you contribute to a larger, national (or international) cause that affects global change? There’s no right or wrong answer here—they’re all right—so it merely depends on where you envision your money making a difference. Donations to local causes often result in more immediate, visible changes in the community, whereas causes for the greater, global good are often supported sight unseen—so you need to make sure the destination is legit.

Do Your Research

Of course, you can always google your chosen charity to get the basic gist of it. But if you want to get to the root of the cause, online sites such as GuideStar, Charity Navigator, and Philanthropedia, to name a few, will give you the more in-depth info you need to make a well-informed decision. GuideStar provides free financial information from 1.8 million nonprofits registered with the I.R.S., allowing you to compare and contrast various charities’ spending, income, and missions. Charity Navigator rates thousands of charities based on their financial health, accountability, and transparency, ranking each based on their success in these categories. And finally, Philanthropedia gives expert reviews and analyses, which will either support or refute your almost final decision. Rest assured, these sites will guide you down the right philanthropic path.

Trust Your Gut 

Once you know enough important facts about your favorite charity, it’s time to decide. And then go with your gut and give—trusting that your gift will help make the life-changing difference you’ve intended. As a wise Winston Churchill once said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”