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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 5-step checklist to help you maximize your holiday donations:

  • Review last year’s charitable investments: Before making new plans, take a look at the charities you supported last year to find out what they’ve accomplished. You’re not looking for a list of itemized expenses, but instead a progress report. If a charity in your giving portfolio can’t tell you what kind of results they created from your investment, then replace it with one that will.
  • Be specific: As you consider which charities to support this year, remember that there are roughly one million of them. That means you don’t have to settle for an organization that isn’t a perfect match for your beliefs and goals. No matter what cause you want to support — whether it is providing humanitarian aid to the Syrian refugees, helping our returning troops find work or finding a cure for a particular disease — there’s a charity out there that matches your intentions. Take the time to find it and confirm (not just assume) it offers the programs and services that match your charitable interests.
  • Look under the hood: Before you give to any charity this holiday season, be sure to check that the charity meets these three criteria..
    • Examine the charity’s finances: Financially healthy organizations - those that are both financially efficient and sustainable - have greater flexibility and freedom to pursue their charitable mission..
    • Ensure the charity is accountable and transparent: Charities that are an open book and that follow good governance practices less likely to engage in unethical or irresponsible activities.
    • Look for signs of effectiveness: The charity's ability to bring about long lasting and meaningful change in the world is the key reason for their existence and for your donation so make sure you find evidence of its impact.
  • Donate online: If you want to deduct your charitable contributions on your 2015 tax return, you have until December 31st to make your donations. Online giving at Charity Navigator offers the luxury of waiting until the last minute and the convenience of maintaining your giving records in one place, making your life easier at tax time.
  • Concentrate your giving: Diversification isn’t an important consideration when giving, like it is when investing in stock. A few well-placed larger donations go farther and have the potential to do more good than a wide array of smaller gifts. Besides, the bigger your gift, the more motivated you will be to do the necessary due diligence.

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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