Aim: Financial Blog for Members

Choosing a charity

June 18, 2014
Giving with your heart—and your head

You really want to give back, but there are so many worthy causes out there! How do you know which organization to support?

  1. Think before you give. Which causes are most important to you? Education? The environment? Animal welfare? Take time to identify the issues that reflect your values. Then consider where you’d like to see the charity do its work—locally, stateside, nationwide or internationally.
  2. Stick with groups you know. Experts agree that choosing a familiar organization whose work you’ve seen helps you feel more confident that your donation will be put to good use.
  3. Avoid cold calls. Not only do telemarketers keep a portion of any money they collect for the charity, giving personal information like your name, address and credit card number over the phone can lead to identity theft. If you receive a call from a charity you want to support, tell the telemarketer that you will research the organization online and donate through a secure website. The added advantage is that your full donation benefits the charity—not the call center handling their fundraising efforts.
  4. Listen carefully. Don’t be fooled by a name that sounds similar to another charity. For example, there are hundreds of charities with “Children” in the title and many have no connection to one another. Take the time to make sure you know the organization you’re supporting, so your money is going where you intend.
  5. Check their tax status. Look up the charity on the Internal Revenue Service website to make sure it has been granted tax-exempt status under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. This proves the charity is a non-profit organization and you can write off your contribution on your taxes.
  6. Check their financial records. Research the charity’s administrative fees. Even the most efficiently-run charities need to bookmark about 25 percent of their budget for fundraising and administrative efforts, leaving about 75 percent of their budget to support their programs and services. Ask the charity for a copy of their most recent Form 990 to see how their finances compare.
  7. Focus your giving. By directing your donations to only one or two organizations, you’ll be able to make a more positive, lasting impact. Additionally, if you commit to annual or semi-annual giving, the organization knows it can count on you and doesn’t have to waste money and resources soliciting you.
  8. Ask questions. An honest charity wants to share information about how your donation will be used. Ask for specifics about how your money will be spent, how many people they helped last year and in what ways. Find out about the organization’s goals, accomplishments and challenges.
  9. Support the underdog. To say that some charities get more attention than others is an understatement. While many are worthy causes, smaller organizations like soup kitchens or arts organizations don’t have a large fundraising budget and would benefit from donations, as well.
  10. Trust your gut. The most important thing about giving is that you feel good about your choice. Don’t give in to pressure from solicitors, and don’t spread yourself too thin by giving more than you can afford.
  11. Charity is more than money. There are more ways to give back than opening your wallet. Donate your time to a charity, a local school, your local library, a food bank or another organization that interests you.

How does North Carolina stack up in charitable donations?

North Carolinians have proven to be among the most generous donors in the nation. According to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, North Carolina was 9th in overall donations in 2008, the most recent year this data was available. Residents donated $4.3 billion with a median contribution of $3,132, which represents an average of 5.9% of the giver’s disposable income.

How about the rest of the United States?

The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports that Americans making $50,000 - $75,000 a year donated 7.6 percent of their discretionary income to charity in 2008. Comparatively, those making more than $100,000 a year gave 4.2 percent.

Regardless of how much you give, make sure you walk away from your donation feeling confident in your choice.

Resources

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