America's charities, and more importantly, those they serve, need your support. And, as you can tell when you open your mailbox at this time of the year, they aren’t afraid to ask for it. Why do appeals increase at year-end? Because the year-end holidays are a time of religious and moral reflection that inspire many people to reach out to those who are less fortunate. Less altruistically, but still just as important, donors need to make their end-of-year giving decisions by December 31 to qualify for a tax deduction in this calendar year. Knowing that, charities increase their solicitations and an increase in charitable giving occurs between Thanksgiving and New Years.
But your support will do little to improve our world unless we all commit to pursuing responsible and informed philanthropy. We offer the following guidelines to ensure your holiday contributions are well-spent.
Use Charity Navigator’s expanded ratings to gain more knowledge to do more good: Charity Navigator’s newly expanded charity analysis rates a charity’s Financial Health and Accountability & Transparency. It is important to seek out fiscally responsible charities as they are more efficient with donations and have greater flexibility to pursue their goals. And charities that follow good governance and transparency practices are less likely to engage in unethical or irresponsible activities. So, the risk that such charities would misuse donations is lower than for charities that don't adopt such practices.
- Dig beyond storytelling to look for evidence of results: Heartwarming stories often motivate donors to give. But smart donors look beyond inspirational anecdotes and seek out evidence of the overall results of a charity’s work. You can learn about a charity’s results by reviewing its website and/or talking with staff. They should be able to tell you more than just the number of activities or people served and speak to the quality and depth of their results (for example, not just whether someone got a job but for how long) as well as their capacity to continue to get these results. This is critical step, after all, the charity’s ability to bring about long lasting and meaningful change in the world should be the key reason for your donation.
- Check the charity’s programs to ensure its efforts truly match your philanthropic passions: There are a lot of misconceptions among donors about the programs and services that their donations fund. For example, a donor might want to help fund a cure for cancer. The donor selects and funds a charity and then is dismayed to find out that the charity’s programs have nothing to do with research for a cure, but are instead focused on advocating for legislation to pay for patient’s care. This common mistake is easily remedied by doing a little bit of research before writing that check. To ensure that the charity’s work is aligned with your philanthropic interests, visit the charity’s website, check its Form 990 or call their office to learn about their primary programs and services.
- Skip the gala and write a check: Special events, such as galas and golf outings, are notoriously inefficient ways to raise money for a charity. Not only are these events outright costly (invitations, catering, entertainment and so on), but planning a fancy ball often diverts staff time away from the charity’s mission. So if you really want to help fund a charity’s operations, then stay home, reheat your leftovers and write a big check directly to the charity.
We wish you nothing but the best in all of your charitable endeavors this holiday season.
Happy Holidays from Charity Navigator!