December 10, 2018 Amanda Smith

Getting the Most from Charitable Giving

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Charitable donations peak in the last months of the year, as donors are inspired by the spirit of the holidays. Making a charitable donation is a worthwhile action any time of year, but we may sometimes feel paralyzed by the abundance of choices. Which cause will benefit the most from my donation? Should I send goods or money? If I donate goods, what kind should I send? If I send money, will it be used wisely? If you’re drowning in questions about how to direct your charitable giving this season, this guide can help you find the answers you need.

Do Your Research
One obstacle to choosing recipients for our charitable donations is the abundance of information and misinformation that circulates on social media about some of the world’s largest charitable organizations. Many charitable organizations have been called into question for their practices and uses of funds, even though the facts of such stories tend to be more complicated than a meme or a viral post. Still, there are ways to get reliable information about your donation candidates. The following resources provide detailed, unbiased information for donors seeking a cause:

  • Guidestar—a searchable database of non-profit organizations, providing comprehensive financial information by location or organization name 
  • Charity Watch—an independent watchdog organization that looks at practices, financial information, and other factors to rate charities’ effectiveness and provide donors with useful information 
  • Charity Natvigator—an independent watchdog organization that evaluates charitable organizations, providing rankings and a searchable database 
  • Better Business Bureau— the BBB compiles information and generates reports about charities and non-profits nationwide, offering a searchable database 
  • Federal Trade Commission—a clearinghouse of information about charitable organizations, known scams, and tips for effective giving

Armed with the facts, you can feel confident about whatever decision you make about your holiday giving.

Give What Is Needed
In the wake of disasters and at the holidays, we’re often tempted to give in-kind donations of goods such as food, toys, clothing as an alternative to “throwing money at the problem.” In-kind donations do feel more personal, but unless a charity specifically requests in-kind donations—a well-known example is Toys for Tots—or unless you verify the recipient’s need for your in-kind donation, money may be your best option

Food banks, for example, have arrangements with wholesalers that allow them to get more supplies from a cash donation, and they can use cash donations to maintain supplies of high-demand items. In-kind donations are well-intentioned, but donors don’t know what an organization needs to serve its population, and large stocks of items can cause logistical difficulties with respect to storage, transport, and distribution. It’s not only acceptable to contribute cash, most of the time, it’s desirable. If you’re still concerned about your contribution being personal, you can express the personal touch through your choice of recipient.

Spread Cheer Through the Year
The bulk of charitable giving happens during the last quarter, mostly because of the holidays, but non-profits have needs and serve their populations year-round. Most organizations offer options for recurring gifts, which can be helpful if you need to balance donating with other holiday expenses. It may be easier to schedule a small-denomination gift over twelve months than a large lump sum in December.

Keep Records
Of course, we’re going to tell you to keep records. We love records! Even though you’re making charitable donations out of the kindness of your heart, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t reap the tax deduction when April 15 rolls around. So, save your receipts for your donations, whether in cash or in-kind. We know how handy good records can be when you need them.

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