Choosing a charity

There are over 1 million charities in the U.S.

Donating money to a charity is more complicated than just checking it out on Charity Navigator. There are so many good causes and I can’t give to as many as I’d like to. We all get requests year round, and not all non-profits are on the same fiscal year. Here are some tips to keep in mind when deciding what gifts to make.

  • Don’t give impulsively unless it’s a small donation you can afford to make a mistake with. Never give over the phone, even if it’s a trusted and known organization as there are many charity scams.
  • Ask telephone solicitors to send you information through the mail, then give directly to the organization if you decide to give at all.   Charities often hire third-party firms to fund raise, and in that case part of your donation (sometimes up to 2/3) will go to the telemarketers. Your money goes farther if given directly to the charity.
  • Do your homework. Not all charities are created equal and they don’t all distribute their funds the way you might prefer. Find out how much of your donation is going to the charity’s programs and services, and how much to fundraising, marketing and administration costs. An ideal situation is 75% or more to programs and services and 25% or less to fundraising, marketing and administration.
  • If you are not feeling flush at the moment of solicitation, your time and/or expertise are also greatly appreciated by non-profits.  Don’t undervalue those in-kind contributions. If you have more time than money to give to a charity, by all means give the time.
  • Be sure to check up on your charities at and Charity Navigator is the tried and true site for the evaluation of not-for-profits. We have used it for years. GiveWell is a newer organization established by a group of donors who wanted to donate their money where it would to do the most good.  Once you have chosen the causes that are near and dear to your heart, do due diligence with your head and make sure it’s a reliable, stable organization that delivers on its promises.
  • It is better to give more money to a fewer charities. “$500 to one charity will have more impact than $100 to five” says Eileen Heisman, CEO of the National Philanthropic Trust. The reason is that it is expensive for charities to recruit new donors. If you are a loyal giver you are saving them money.
  • Don’t forget to get your tax deduction for monies donated to charities. The charity must be a qualified 501(c)3. Give via a credit card or check – never cash. Get a dated receipt and make donations on or prior to December 31.
  • Finally, no amount is too small to donate. Crowd-funding sites and popular campaigns like the Ice Bucket for ALS have shown that small amounts can add up to very large amounts for charities. The Ice Bucket for ALS campaign totaled over $100 million!


Check out our earlier ASE article about donations.

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