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.
Ensure the charity is efficient, ethical and effective: Before you give to any charity this holiday season, be sure to check that the charity meets these three criteria.
- Fiscal Health: Financially healthy organizations – those that are both financially efficient and sustainable - have greater flexibility and freedom to pursue their charitable mission. Charity Navigator’s 0 to 4- star rating system includes a review of each charity’s fiscal performance.
- Accountable & Transparent: Generally speaking, charities that follow good governance practices are less likely to engage in unethical or irresponsible activities so, the risk that charities would misuse donations is lower than for charities that don't adopt such practices. Donors can access a review of each charity’s Accountability & Transparency via Charity Navigator’s free website.
- Results: Knowing what the charity has accomplished is a critical step; after all, the charity’s ability to bring about long lasting and meaningful change in the world is the key reason for their existence and what you want your donation to be used for. Charity Navigator will begin to provide a review of each charity’s results reporting within the coming year. In the meantime, 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.
Hang up the phone: Now that the election is over, you can count on telemarketers seeking more business from charities, which means more phone calls soliciting your support. Avoid them and their generally high fundraising costs.
- Give without strings attached: Donors like to designate their contributions for specific projects and purposes. While this is ideal for disaster giving (such as with Superstorm Sandy), don’t be the roadblock in your favorite charity’s quest to do good work. Take the time to research your charity so that you can trust them. Then give an unrestricted gift so the charity has the flexibility to respond to changing demands for its services - even if that means your gift may pay to keep the lights on.
- Find the perfect fit: Don’t settle for organizations that aren’t an exact match for your philanthropic goals. No matter what you want to support there’s a charity out there that matches your intentions. You just need to take the time to find it and confirm (not just assume) it offers the programs and services that match your charitable interests.
- Don’t forget ‘non-Sandy’ charities: In recent months, a significant amount of charitable donations went to Hurricane Sandy relief organizations. History has shown that giving doesn’t change much from year to year. As a result, much of the contributions that non-disaster aid charities were depending on have been diverted to relief charities. This holiday season consider supporting these groups so that they are not forced to cut programs and services.
We wish you nothing but the best in all of your charitable endeavors this holiday season.
Happy Holidays from Charity Navigator!