To help ensure that your charitable donations are put to good use, do a little homework before handing over your hard-earned money.
Instead of giving to any organization that solicits a donation, determine where your passions lie, then donate accordingly, advises Sandra Miniutti, spokeswoman for Charity Navigator, a clearinghouse of information about nonprofit organizations. "Make your choice proactively, not impulsively," she says.
Some people fund local programs, while others prefer to support worldwide relief efforts.
Research the nonprofit organizations on your short list. A good resource to start with is the Internal Revenue Service (www.irs.gov), which lists registered charities. Other sources of information include Charity Navigator (www.charitynavigator.org), GuideStar (www.guidestar.org) and the Charities Review Council (www.smartgivers.org).
Budget your charitable giving as you would any financial obligation. Give time instead of dollars if it's better for your budget.
Some people want to support medical research, others give to local food banks, and some prefer to assist with outreach efforts to children, the elderly or others in need. Once you've identified your passion, match it with charities that spend time and money on that cause.
Make sure the charity spends at least 75 percent of donations on programs and services, rather than on administrative costs or fundraising, Miniutti advises.
"Support one or two charities instead of spreading your money around," Miniutti says. "That way you become a partner with the charity in their efforts."
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