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Giving Tips

We predict individual donors will give at least $100 billion to charities this holiday season, a level consistent with giving during the last several year-end giving season. Our forecast is based on the following:
  • Charity Navigator's survey of donors which indicates 91% of those who donated last year-end plan to give again this year-end and 54% of them doing so at the same level as last year
  • A report by the Chronicle of Philanthropy of the 400 largest charities indicating that giving will likely be flat this year
  • The state of the overall economy, which is improved, although not entirely restored to pre-recession levels and has historically been the biggest influence on contribution levels

If you are among the millions of donors who do plan to give, then we encourage you to give as generously as you can and to be thoughtful in selecting which charities to fund. We are pleased to offer the following tips to ensure you are more confident in the charities on the receiving end of your generosity this holiday season and beyond:

  • Think about the long term: Like investing, giving should be driven by long-term goals. Dropping some change in the bucket outside the mall isn't going to change the world. Responsible philanthropy is more sophisticated and requires that you define what you hope your giving accomplishes and then develop a plan to reach those goals. And when you implement your plan, don’t settle for organizations that aren’t an exact match for your philanthropic goals. Take at least a bit of time to find it and confirm (not just assume) the charity offers the programs and services that match your charitable aspirations.  
  • Ensure the charity is efficient, ethical and effective: Before you give to any charity, 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 are accountable follow good governance practices and are therefore 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.  In addition, an organization that is transparent will share its performance openly with the public. Therefore all stakeholders can investigate the details of the charity's work without having to struggle for access to the information. If a charity is doing good work, then it should have nothing to hide. As the saying goes, "sunlight is the best disinfectant!" 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 has begun to provide a review of each charity’s results reporting, but this data will not impact any charity's rating until we have the data for all of the charities we rate.  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.
  • Help charities squeezed by the federal government shutdown: Federal, state and local government agencies regularly pay charities late and typically fail to pay the full cost of the services the charity provides. Many of these charities were already near the breaking point in having to scale up to help people in the aftermath of the Great Recession.The shutdown only exacerbated the issues and further stressed charities that depend on government funding – such as those in the arts and human services. This year, consider a gift to these charities to help them with their cash flow and to enable them to continue to meet the need for their services.
  • Be wary of crowdfunding sites: Over the past year, especially immediately following a disaster or tragedy when legitimate charities haven't yet determined their planned charitable response, crowdfunding sites have stepped in as an alternative way to give. But don't be fooled by the glossy appearance of these sites with compelling videos and storytelling. With little to no vetting going on by these platforms, they are a very risky way to donate. Even if the messaging on a fund indicates that it will be used for a charitable purpose, there is nothing preventing the solicitor from using the money for a lavish vacation or a new sports car. 
  • Give online in one place: No one likes to think about taxes, especially during the holidays. But if you want to deduct your charitable contributions on your 2013 tax return, you have until December 31st to make your donations. When you give online at Charity Navigator, through our partnership with Network for Good, you have the luxury of waiting until the last minute, knowing that not only will you be provided an instant receipt, but your giving records are maintained in one place, making your life easier at tax time and when you want to give again. (Please remember that Charity Navigator is a charity too, charges nothing to either users of the site or the charities we evaluate, and relies on your voluntary support for the largest share of our budget!)

We wish you nothing but the best in all of your charitable endeavors this holiday season. 

Happy Holidays from Charity Navigator!


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