Best organization to donate

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Hurricane Dorian’s destruction in the Bahamas, North Carolina and up the Atlantic coast provides a terrible reminder of how these storms can upend lives and destroy homes. As with previous disasters, millions of Americans are trying to figure out the best way to use their money to help people recover.

As a scholar who has studied philanthropy after disasters, I’m hearing from friends and colleagues that the growing number of charities responding to these emergencies is making them unsure about which one to support. If you are feeling the same way, here’s my advice.

Stevie Wonder performs the Bill Withers song ‘Lean on Me’ during the ‘Hand in Hand’ telethon to benefit victims of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma in 2017.

1. Decide what matters most to you

Giving is a personal decision motivated by personal values and passions. So, before you search for the right charity, clarify a few things in your own mind.

Do you prefer to support local, national or global organizations? Would you rather give directly to individuals in need?

National and international organizations have specialized expertise. Local groups know the territory.

The Red Cross, the biggest disaster relief nonprofit, operates everywhere. It has the ability to be on the ground, making a difference right away. But debates crop up from time to time over its effectiveness due to concerns over how it dealt with some previous disasters.

National organizations, such as Team Rubicon and the Salvation Army, as well as the Grand Bahama Disaster Relief Foundation, a local organization, and GoFundMe, a platform for giving directly to people in need, are all responding to the emergencies created by Hurricane Dorian.

Also consider timing.

Do you care more about helping people immediately or over the long term? Hurricane survivors need food, shelter and other basics right away. But as the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and the 2012 hurricane widely known as Superstorm Sandy made clear, relief efforts may take many years.

Once you set these priorities, seek groups that do the kind of work you care about most.

Hurricane Dorian destroyed thousands of homes on Great Abaco, an island in the Bahamas. AP Photo/Gonzalo Gaudenzi

2. Consider several options

No matter where emergencies arise, international organizations such as Red Cross, the Salvation Army, Americares and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) respond and provide relief.

But they aren’t your only options. After an earthquake, hurricane or other tragedy, many established charities adapt their services to respond to the needs that emerge, as I learned in research I conducted about how nonprofits responded to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Many media outlets and specialty websites compile lists with good options. Following Hurricane Dorian, examples include The Washington Post, USA Today, PBS NewsHour and Charity Navigator.

After you find the groups aligned with your interests, visit their websites. Read their mission statements and look for descriptions of how they’re helping.

3. Focus on results

Knowing what matters to you and what your giving options are a good start, but not enough. You also need to make sure a charity is likely to make a difference with your money.

Most people donate in the first two months following a disaster. That means that when you research your giving options, the best information you’re likely to find is what an organization plans to do or is doing right now.

That’s useful, but it doesn’t tell you whether they’ll do a good job.

Given that challenge, what kind of information can help you make a good decision? Results from past work, whether in disaster response or something else, can at least tell you something about reliability. Any nonprofit asking for your money after a hurricane or earthquake – or any time, for that matter – should make it easy to find information about results on their website.

Look for answers to these questions. After the last disaster:

  • Did they spend all the money they received?
  • How did they spend it?
  • Did the money make a meaningful difference in addressing people’s needs?

The United Way, which often plays a major role in disaster relief, distributes the money it raises to community groups that help those affected. After major disasters, such as Hurricane Harvey, it releases updates about how it spent donors’ dollars. The Robin Hood Foundation set another good example when it reported on its work following Superstorm Sandy.

Details about results can be hard to find on charity websites. But many organizations providing disaster relief do provide them.

For instance, the Red Cross website includes a long list of publications regarding its responses to disasters, and the Salvation Army has posted videos, with more limited information, that describe its efforts in response to Hurricane Katrina and the Haiti earthquake.

GuideStar is a good information source because it enables charities to upload results-related information on its site. For example, the Humane Society of the United States provides results information on its GuideStar page and also describes accomplishments on its website.

4. Watch for red flags

Finally, consult charity rating sites.

These sites score nonprofits by applying their own criteria, making comparison easy. What they rate varies but usually includes financial performance, management practices and transparency. Charity Navigator, the Better Business Bureau/Wise Giving Alliance and Charity Watch are among the best-known.

Before giving to a nonprofit, ensure that it has a high score with one or more of those groups and see if there are reasons for concern. One good resource is Charity Navigator’s frequently updated donor advisory list. It catalogs everything from reports of embezzled funds and fraud to unclear financial reports.

Donate what you can spare after disasters. But, as the old adage suggests, good intentions don’t always yield good results. Doing a little research and following these guidelines can help you feel more confident about your donations and the difference they will make.

This article contains information in an earlier article The Conversation US published on Sept. 26, 2017

Disaster Recovery – What Donors and Nonprofits Need To Know

When disaster strikes, we see the best of our nation. It’s “all hands on deck.” Neighbor helping neighbor. Seeking to help is the essence of a “charitable” impulse. While our webpage below offers basic information for nonprofits with facilities and employees affected by disasters, and for donors seeking to provide assistance post disaster, we encourage those seeking detailed information about a nonprofit’s own recovery to monitor federal government websites such as: Disaster, and to review the IRS publication Disaster Resource Guide for Individuals and Businesses (IRS Publication 2194). We encourage donors considering charitable donations and seeking ways to provide assistance to check with the Center for Disaster Philanthropy for information and guidance on charitable donations and other ways to assist with recovery efforts.

Considerations for Donating

Post disaster, every contribution is given with the right intentions, but potential donations of “things” may not be practical to transport or distribute, or address the most immediate needs. What’s possible and practical? Unfortunately, in times of disasters, there is a risk of fraud, such as when someone poses as a representative of a charitable organization when in fact there is no underlying organization. We encourage donors to give only to nonprofits they know. You can check whether a group is recognized as tax-exempt by the IRS using the IRS search tool. Nonprofits may wonder whether they can pivot from their primary mission to provide disaster relief. The answer is “yes” but with some limitations, explained below under the heading “Practical Pointers for Nonprofits.”

NB: Special rules apply for donations to organizations that are based outside the US and may not be recognized as tax-exempt by the IRS: In September 2017, new IRS regulations clarify the requirement to make a “good faith determination” that an overseas organization is “equivalent” to a U.S. 501(c)(3) public charity.


  • While there may be a temptation to send clothing, blankets, or nonperishable food, in many cases a monetary donation is best. A front-line nonprofit will be able to put your contribution to the best possible use based on the needs on-the-ground. Food and clothing, while always appreciated, require additional capacity to transport, sort (to ensure nothing is past an expiration date, for example), distribute, and use. Nonprofits are also sometimes able to negotiate for discounts on needed items, making a donated dollar go even further than when donors purchase items themselves.
  • Law enforcement warns not to give through links embedded in unsolicited emails because they could lead to fraudulent websites masquerading as charitable organizations.
  • Individuals may wish to hold a fundraiser to raise money for disaster relief. To ensure that donors may deduct contributions, a tax-exempt organization must receive the donations and document that contributions are made to qualified donees. More details from the IRS.
  • Remember that, in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, law enforcement and first responders ask others NOT to enter areas affected by the disaster, unless they are part of an organized and coordinated recovery effort, to avoid hampering rescue and recovery efforts (as well as for the safety of all involved)
  • Anyone, including an employer, can make “qualified disaster relief payments” to cover reasonable and necessary personal, family, living, or funeral expenses incurred as a result of a disaster or to repair a personal residence located in a declared disaster area. Such assistance is not taxable as income to the person receiving the assistance. More information from FEMA.

In the wake of disasters, new nonprofits often spring up with good intentions to help in affected communities, but established groups with the infrastructure and ability to respond quickly and efficiently may already be mobilizing relief efforts. Check the website of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy to learn about these and other ways to provide assistance. If you are considering starting a nonprofit to respond to a disaster, be sure to read, Starting and maintaining a charity for disaster relief (IRS).

While disasters call our attention to immediate needs, recovery from disasters is likely to take a long time, so longer-term aid is also needed. Consider making automatic recurring contributions to organizations helping in a recovery. Recovery efforts often take years, and go on long after initial contributions have been exhausted. Even a small recurring gift can make a difference not only to the community in recovery, but also to the charitable nonprofit(s) assisting the community and its residents get back into their homes/jobs, and onto their own two feet.

More advice from the IRS:

The IRS cautions people wishing to make disaster-related charitable donations to avoid scam artists by following these tips:

  • Be sure to donate to recognized charities.
  • Be wary of charities with names that are similar to familiar or nationally known organizations. Some phony charities use names or websites that sound or look like those of respected, legitimate organizations. The IRS website at has a search feature, Tax-Exempt Organization Search, through which people may find qualified charities; donations to these charities may be tax-deductible.
  • Don’t give out personal financial information — such as Social Security numbers or credit card and bank account numbers and passwords — to anyone who solicits a contribution. Scam artists may use this information to steal a donor’s identity and money.
  • Never give or send cash. For security and tax record purposes, contribute by check or credit card or another way that provides documentation of the donation.
  • Consult IRS Publication 526, Charitable Contributions, available on This free booklet describes the tax rules that apply to making legitimate tax-deductible donations. Among other things, it also provides complete details on what records to keep.
  • Taxpayers suspecting fraud by email should visit and search for the keywords “Report Phishing.”

Practice Pointers for Nonprofits

Even when disaster relief is not the primary mission of a nonprofit, there are ways to provide assistance, including direct financial payments to those affected. However, given that tax-exempt charitable nonprofits (including private foundations) must abide by the prohibition against “private benefit” in the tax code, nonprofits need to be careful about how they provide direct financial assistance to individuals.

  • May an organization provide disaster relief to victims of a particular disaster even though disaster relief is not specified in its exempt application? ! However, care must be taken when selecting the individuals to receive assistance. Click here for more IRS FAQs for nonprofits seeking information about how to provide assistance.
  • Nonprofits that provide disaster relief should be careful to document the costs with detailed descriptions of dates, assistance provided, the purpose for the assistance, and how the recipients of assistance were selected, as well as the name, address, and amount distributed to each recipient. If there is any relationship between individuals receiving assistance and those in control of the nonprofit or key employees, that must also be disclosed. Additionally, the people selecting the individuals who receive assistance must also be disclosed. See IRS guidance: Disaster Relief: How Charities Must Document Relief Activities.
  • Many nonprofits provide “safety net” services for the community. In the aftermath of a disaster those service providers may themselves be struggling. Consider strategies, such as those used by the Marin County Community Foundation, to accelerate aid and assistance through pre-approved grant assistance for charitable nonprofits that are working to provide disaster relief.
  • Language barriers may make it difficult for some victims to receive the same access to assistance as English-speakers. Offering translation services and/or helping to provide access to translated information is another way to assist with disaster recovery.

The IRS generally provides tax relief for those with filing deadlines, including nonprofits, who are affected by disasters. Check the IRS website: Tax Relief in Disaster Situations.

The Small Business Administration offers loans to small enterprises, including nonprofits in some cases, affected by disasters: SBA Disaster Loan Assistance.


  • Center for Disaster Philanthropy will post relevant information and resources, such as webinars on how to support recovery efforts.
  • Federal Management Agency (FEMA) will provide news about federal assistance.
  • Disaster Relief, Providing Assistance through Charitable Organizations (IRS Publication 3833)
  • Disaster Resource Guide for Individuals and Businesses (IRS Publication 2194)
  • Disaster relief Part I (IRS podcast)
  • Disaster relief Part II (Providing relief through nonprofit organizations, IRS podcast)
  • Reconstructing records after a disaster (IRS podcast)
  • Starting and maintaining a charity for disaster relief (IRS)
  • Disaster Philanthropy Playbook (Center for Disaster Philanthropy)
  • Giving to disaster relief and recovery (GuideStar)
  • Be prepared for disasters!
  • Surviving a crisis: Practical strategies for nonprofit organizations (Nonprofits Insurance Alliance of California and Alliance of Nonprofits for Insurance)

Giving to Disaster Relief and Recovery

When disaster strikes, people want to help. Unfortunately, it’s not always clear which nonprofits can respond most effectively, or even if some organizations asking for donations are legitimate. Here are five tips to help you give wisely.

Giving Tips

  1. Be pro-active, not re-active.

    It’s not necessary or wise to respond to every call or request. The best way you can protect yourself as a donor is to follow the steps below to identify the nonprofit(s) you want to support.

  2. Determine what kind of programs you want to support.

    What are your values and priorities? What matters to you? “Disaster relief and recovery” has many faces—emergency housing, provision of potable water, medical assistance, feeding the hungry, sending in search and rescue teams, long-term rebuilding, and more. Decide which one(s) you want to give to.

  3. Do a little research.

    Use a reputable source, such as GuideStar, or one of our partners, such as Network for Good or JustGive, to identify charities doing the work you want to support. All of the charities listed on these sites are legitimate organizations recognized by the IRS, and you can contribute directly from the sites.

    If you already have an organization in mind and are familiar with its Web site, you can do your research there. Be careful, however, if you haven’t been to the site before or don’t know the organization well. Con artists often post bogus Web sites and run scam donation campaigns immediately after a disaster. If you aren’t already familiar with a relief organization’s site, protect yourself by linking to it from a trusted site such as GuideStar, Network for Good, or JustGive. Avoid new Web sites and links provided in e-mails. And don’t text your donation unless you’re very sure that you’re texting a legitimate organization.

  4. Ask questions.

    • Does the charity have experience working in disaster relief and in particular in the nation where the disaster has occurred?
      Time is of the essence—lives are at risk, so you want to give to organizations that can get relief where it needs to go quickly and efficiently.

    • How does the charity describe its mission and programs? Its accomplishments?
      Do the programs support the mission? Does the charity use concrete measurements to evaluate its accomplishments?

    • How do people who have firsthand experience with the charity evaluate its services?
      Check GuideStar or our partner GreatNonprofits for reviews.

  5. Consider making another gift in a few weeks or months, or giving an unrestricted gift to an experienced organization’s general disaster-relief fund.

    “Disaster relief” is a long-term process, as we’ve seen in the aftermath of the December 26, 2004, tsunamis and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Donating in a few months or even a year can make a difference in many lives.

    Regarding unrestricted gifts, remember that relief organizations can’t wait until donations start coming in to respond to a disaster—they have to get to the scene as quickly as possible. By giving to a general relief fund, you give the organization the ability to use your donation where and when it is most needed. Perhaps that will be in Chile today. Perhaps it will be at someplace else in the future. But your gift to a nonprofit’s general relief fund will make a difference.

There are thousands of great nonprofits, but do you ever wonder which nonprofit organizations get the most traction?

To scratch our own itch, we put the time into creating the world’s top 100 nonprofit organizations list covering a whole range of missions from international development, animal welfare, to museums. We wanted the list to be objective and based on publicly available web, social, and fiscal responsibility metrics.

For an explanation of how the rankings are computed, scroll down past the list. Notes: Colleges, universities, and individual churches are not included on this list.

Rank Org Name Avg Web Rank Avg Social Rank CN Rank
1 Metropolitan Museum of Art 19.30 18.00 23
2 American Civil Liberties Union Foundation 32.00 20.00 10
3 Amnesty International USA 23.70 23.50 88
4 Planned Parenthood Federation of America 45.30 50.50 45
5 American Heart Association 16.00 58.50 76
6 NPR 3.30 3.50 146
7 American Red Cross 16.00 34.50 104
8 The New York Public Library 28.30 69.00 61
9 Do Something 92.00 27.00 40
10 American Museum of Natural History 35.00 47.50 78
11 The Museum of Modern Art 92.30 14.50 55
12 American Red Cross 34.30 25.00 103
13 National Audubon Society 47.70 62.50 53
14 Human Rights Watch 20.70 12.00 132
15 Samaritan’s Purse 110.00 36.00 21
16 Doctors Without Borders, USA 104.00 35.00 29
17 Wikimedia Foundation 89.30 64.00 15
18 Center for Constitutional Rights 11.30 104.00 56
19 ALSAC – St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital 77.30 35.50 68
20 Kiva 44.00 81.00 57
21 Creative Commons 6.00 84.50 92
22 Natural Resources Defense Council 39.30 109.50 39
23 National Geographic 5.00 1.00 0
24 TED 4.30 2.00 0
25 Feeding America 93.00 64.50 34
26 UNICEF 13.00 3.50 0
27 PBS 6.30 11.00 0
28 104.70 70.00 27
29 The Rotary Foundation of Rotary International 67.70 135.00 1
30 World Bank 8.00 13.00 0
31 World Wildlife Fund 32.00 17.50 163
32 Council on Foreign Relations 37.00 77.50 98
33 People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals 26.00 17.00 170
34 San Diego Zoo Global 92.00 75.50 48
35 UNHCR 21.70 11.50 0
36 GlobalGiving 75.30 143.00 2
37 United Nations Human Rights 21.70 19.00 0
38 Mayo Clinic 6.30 36.00 0
39 International Rescue Committee 100.00 63.00 63
40 American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals 46.00 37.50 144
41 Alzheimer’s Association 44.70 79.00 105
42 American Cancer Society 18.00 39.50 172
43 The Art Institute of Chicago 64.00 74.00 97
44 Cleveland Clinic 32.00 20.50 0
45 World Food Program USA 63.70 34.00 138
46 Conservation International 126.00 92.50 18
47 The Trevor Project 128.00 72.50 37
48 Environmental Defense Fund 77.70 95.50 66
49 Free Software Foundation 69.70 158.50 12
50 Monterey Bay Aquarium 102.70 116.00 22
51 United States Olympic Committee 52.00 98.50 95
52 Oceana 108.00 103.00 35
53 charity: water 76.00 61.00 111
54 The Center for Strategic and International Studies 74.70 74.50 100
55 WGBH Boston 86.00 152.00 19
56 World Vision 86.00 42.00 130
57 The Humane Society of the United States 58.00 24.00 177
58 The ALS Association, National Office 119.00 115.50 26
59 AARP 22.00 58.50 0
60 Doctors Without Borders, USA 105.30 139.50 31
61 The Christian Broadcasting Network 49.00 119.00 110
62 Mental Health America 78.00 110.00 90
63 The Gates Foundation 71.00 28.50 0
64 CARE 135.30 54.00 94
65 United Way Worldwide 161.30 108.00 14
66 166.70 100.50 17
67 Catholic Relief Services 106.70 108.50 69
68 Girl Scouts of the USA 102.30 97.50 86
69 National Wildlife Federation 74.00 45.00 167
70 Sierra Club 50.70 56.00 0
71 American Association for the Advancement of Science 74.00 122.50 96
72 The Nature Conservancy 54.30 94.00 145
73 The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts 96.70 116.50 81
74 Dana-Farber Cancer Institute 145.70 104.50 46
75 Boy Scouts of America National Council 81.30 104.00 112
76 American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research 67.30 109.00 121
77 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston 81.30 82.50 134
78 Habitat for Humanity International 89.70 57.00 154
79 Cystic Fibrosis Foundation 147.00 151.50 3
80 Christianity Today 40.70 78.50 0
81 The Atlantic Council of the United States 114.00 158.50 30
82 NARAL Pro-Choice America Foundation 205.70 87.00 11
83 Human Rights Campaign Foundation 60.00 108.50 136
84 American Diabetes Association 43.70 82.50 179
85 Save the Children 83.00 85.00 139
86 Open Society Foundations 87.30 38.00 0
87 Wildlife Conservation Society 131.70 124.50 54
88 National Multiple Sclerosis Society 78.70 117.50 115
89 The Carter Center 158.00 149.50 6
90 LPGA 127.00 58.50 129
91 ONE 105.30 27.00 0
92 Philadelphia Museum of Art 146.70 106.50 65
93 Focus on the Family 82.30 55.50 0
94 UNICEF USA 108.00 64.00 149
95 Oxfam America 120.00 50.50 152
96 WikiLeaks 22.00 120.50 0
97 Make-A-Wish America 113.30 66.50 147
98 World Vision 159.00 37.00 131
99 The College Board 16.30 128.00 0
100 Oregon Zoo Foundation 215.70 84.00 28
Rank Org Name Avg Web Rank Avg Social Rank CN Rank


Social – Facebook Likes and Twitter Followers

Though follower counts aren’t a perfect measure of social media authority, they are certainly a great indication and are the easiest to understand and measure. These numbers can be found by going to the primary facebook and twitter pages owned by an organization. If an organization owns multiple accounts on a single social network, we only count the largest as this eliminates inflation caused by duplicate followers.

Buzz Depth – Moz’s Page Authority
Predicts the website home page ranking in search engines based on an algorithmic combination of the number of sites linking to it, the total number of links, Facebook shares & likes, tweets, and Google +1s.

Buzz Scope – Moz’s Linking Root Domains
The number of unique root domains containing at least one url linking to the website’s homepage.

Traffic – Alexa Rank
Alexa’s traffic rankings are based on the usage patterns of Alexa Toolbar users and data collected from other, diverse sources over a rolling 3 month period. A site’s ranking is based on a combined measure of reach and pageviews. Reach is determined by the number of unique Alexa users who visit a site on a given day. Pageviews are the total number of Alexa user URL requests for a site. However, multiple requests for the same URL on the same day by the same user are counted as a single pageview. The site with the highest combination of users and pageviews is ranked #1.

Responsibility and Transparency – Charity Navigator Rating Scale (Overall)

Charity Navigator rates organizations based on a complex series of fiscal responsibility and transparency metrics. One limitation to this metric is that not all organizations on our list are currently rated by Charity Navigator. Still, in this edition of the list we chose to include it when calculating our top 100 because of the unique value they bring.


  • Thousands of nonprofit organizations are reviewed in a preliminary screening to determine if their statistics are competitive enough to be ranked.
  • 250-500 organizations are then selected to be ranked.
  • Data is collected for each nonprofit from all 7 measured criteria (i.e., Facebook Likes, Twitter Followers, Moz Page Rank (homepage), Moz Linking Root Domains, Alexa Rank, and Charity Navigator Rating).
  • For each of the 6 measured criteria, each organization is ranked in comparison to all other nonprofit organizations being evaluated.
  • A composite rank for each nonprofit is determined by 1/3 weight to social media (Likes and Followers), 1/3 weight to overall website rankings (Alexa, Page Authority, Linking Root Domains, PageRank) and 1/3 to Charity Navigator Rating.
  • The top 100 organizations are published.

10 Super-Sized Charities

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  • Tips for Donors
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    • Tips For Giving In Times Of Crisis
    • Giving Statistics
    • How to Protect Your Personal Data
    • A Quick Guide to Deducting Your Donations
    • Tax Benefits of Giving
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    • Questions To Ask Charities Before Donating
    • Understanding Charitable State Registrations
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    • Evaluating Charities Not Currently Rated by Charity Navigator
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■ Does the charity practice “joint cost allocation?”

This is accounting jargon for lumping in fund-raising or solicitation with the charity’s program expenses. According to the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, more than 20 percent of nationally solicited charities it reviews employ this practice, which could muddy the waters in gauging how much is really being spent on the charity’s mission. To get a clearer picture, you will need to identify the charity’s primary purpose. If it is mainly a grass-roots lobbying or public awareness organization (which means you may not be able to deduct your donation), then joint cost allocation may make sense. If it devotes its efforts to financing research, then the allocation may be a red flag.

■ How does the charity evaluate its effectiveness?

You should be able to see some examples in its annual reports. Also, ask the charity directly about its successes. Does the organization use independent auditors to benchmark its performance? Where has it failed? A transparent charity should provide this information along with progress reports.

Eric Friedman, author of “Reinventing Philanthropy” (Potomac Books, 2013), says charities that cannot gauge their effectiveness through benchmarks “may have effective programs, but it’s hard for donors to understand how effective or compare them to other options. I’ve stopped focusing on financial measures, which can be misleading.”

■ Is the mission supported by academic research?

Organizations may be funding ineffective ways of addressing their mission. A boutique charity information service like GiveWell recommends only three organizations a year out of the hundreds it has considered since its founding in 2007. GiveWell performs extensive research to show that recommended charities are “proven, cost-effective, scalable and transparent,” said Alexander Berger, its senior research analyst. “Because we’re aiming to find the best giving opportunities possible — not to rate every charity — we don’t research charities that are unlikely to excel on our criteria.”

■ Watch out for red flags.

Because nonprofit accounting and reporting can be incomplete, suspicious activity can be hidden. Daniel Borochoff, president of CharityWatch, formerly known as the American Institute of Philanthropy, rates 600 charities with a grading system from A to F — and takes a watchdog approach that tries to expose nonprofit abuses. “There’s a lot of sneaky reporting going on,” Mr. Borochoff said. He said chicanery could often be found in “gifts in kind,” where donations may be overvalued, or in organizations with emotional appeals — some charities involving animals, children, first responders and veterans. They may be little more than aggressive fund-raising operations that do little for their missions, or funds that are diverted to officers or other purposes.

■ Do you need comprehensive advice?

If you are also concerned about tax or estate planning considerations, it would make sense to work with a wealth manager, estate-planning lawyer or certified financial planner. Many advisers also have insights into nonprofit accounting that can help you vet a charity on a deeper level. Robert J. DiQuollo, chief executive of Brinton Eaton Wealth Advisors in Madison, N.J., said he could scrutinize nonprofit line items like executive salaries and program-related expenses. “We always approach the charity directly,” Mr. DiQuollo said, “to make sure that the charity is spending money on what the donor wants.”

■ Is the charity sitting on too much cash?

You need to know if the charity is putting its cash to good use or reserving it for some other purpose. According to Wise Giving Alliance standards, “the charity’s unrestricted net assets available for use should not be more than three times the size of the past year’s expenses or three times the size of the current year’s budget, whichever is higher.” This is something you may need an experienced accountant to evaluate. The bottom line: As a donor, you need to know if your money will be put to work immediately or sidelined.

12. Best immigration charity to donate to: The National Immigration Law Center (NILC)

This nonprofit has defended the rights of low-income immigrants in the US since 1979. It works to provide immigrants access to health care and fights unconstitutional immigration policy. The nonprofit also works to educate the public on the impact new laws would have on this marginalized group.

13. Best civil rights charity to donate to: The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

The ACLU has been defending the constitutional rights of individuals for almost 100 years. Whether it means fighting for LGBTQ rights or ensuring that women are able to make their own choices about their reproductive health, its mission is to protect the civil liberties of every person in the US.

14. Best senior citizens charity to donate to: National Council on Aging

One in three older adults doesn’t have economic security, according to the National Council on Aging. It then becomes increasingly difficult for older adults to address their own health concerns. The organization’s goal is to improve the health and financial situations of 10 million senior citizens by 2020.

15. Best children’s charity to donate to: Prevent Child Abuse America

This 501(c)(3) charity proudly designates 94% of its of its cash budget to programs that directly relate to its mission of stopping child abuse and neglect in the US. Prevent Child Abuse America uses donations to run parent education programs and to advocate for federal policies that promote children’s health and safety.

16. Best government accountability charity to donate to: Government Accountability Project (GAP)

On their website, the Government Accountability Project states that courage is contagious. It believes that one whistleblower will inspire more truth-tellers to come forward. This non-partisan group is the nation’s leading whistleblower protection organization and works to defend those who bravely expose wrongdoing.

17. Best homeless charity to donate to: National Alliance to End Homelessness

The National Alliance to End Homelessness wants to see a world where homelessness is a distant memory. It focuses on trying to shape federal policy and finding solutions to end homelessness, like short-term rental assistance programs and community education.

18. Best AIDS charity to donate to: Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR)

The Foundation for AIDS Research has a simple goal: develop the scientific basis for a cure for AIDS by 2020. The foundation has invested over $500 million since 1985 in scientific AIDS research, public education, and public policy research.

19. Best wildlife charity to donate to: Africa Wildlife Foundation

The Africa Wildlife Foundation strives to protect endangered wildlife and their habitats across Africa so they can continue to thrive. Along with combating animal poaching and trafficking, the organization helps with economic development and community empowerment throughout the continent.

20. Best human rights charity to donate to: Human Rights Watch

Defending the rights of people across the globe is no small task, but the organization Human Rights Watch has been doing just this since 1978. About 400 journalists, attorneys, country experts, and many others work to publish non-partisan and independent reports every year on human rights conditions around the world.

21. Best women’s rights charity to donate to: Global Fund for Women

The Global Fund for Women proudly calls itself and its supporters champions for equality. From setting up the first women’s fund in Nepal to funding secret schools in Afghanistan, this bold organization strives to empower women and girls around the world and ensure they are granted basic human rights.

22. Best international aid charity to donate to: charity: water

According to charity: water, one in 10 people don’t have access to clean drinking water. The organization hopes to change these stats by bringing clean and safe drinking water to developing countries. It has already funded over 29,000 water projects around the world.

23. Best hunger-relief charity to donate to: Action Against Hunger

Over 800 million people go hungry every day, according to Action Against Hunger. They hope to fight malnutrition and food crises in over 20 countries with help from donations.

24. Best hearing impaired charity to donate to: Hearing Health Foundation

The Hearing Health Foundation has been researching hearing loss and tinnitus since 1958 with the aim of preventing and curing hearing loss and hearing-related diseases for good. They also focus on creating inclusive opportunities for those with hearing loss or other hearing disorders.

25. Best mental health charity to donate to: Mental Health America

Founded in 1909, Mental Health America helps Americans understand, prevent, and treat mental health issues that can interfere with their overall wellness and ability to live a healthy life. They also focus on educating Americans about mental health issues through their online hub of information and tools.

People who used crowdfunding to help charities

Thousands of people have used GoFundMe to support causes they’re passionate about. Here are just a few examples of individuals who made a real difference.

The Leo Project in honor of Caitlin

When Jess’s best friend passed away from breast cancer at just 33, she vowed to do something amazing that would make her friend proud. Jess created the Leo Project, an education initiative that would fund non-traditional education opportunities for the youth in Nanyuki, Kenya.

The education system there doesn’t prioritize subjects like art, music, and performance, but Jess wanted to ensure the students there were still exposed to them. She raised over $54,000 for her project through GoFundMe.

Save the Sato Pups

After Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico, it left about 500,000 stray dogs, or “satos” to fend for themselves. The people behind the popular Instagram account The Dogist launched a GoFundMe in partnership with the 501(c)(3) charity the Sato Project to care for injured dogs on the island, find them forever homes, and even fly some of them to New York City to start exciting new lives in the Big Apple. In just four months the organization raised over $63,000 to help the pups of Puerto Rico.

Raise money for your favorite cause with charity fundraising

If you’d like to support a cause close to your heart but lack the funds to do so, charity fundraising through GoFundMe is an easy way to make a difference.

If you’re wondering why GoFundMe is among the top charity fundraising sites, here are just a few reasons:

  • We offer a free fundraising platform, which means that more of your donations can go to your cause.
  • Our simple platform means you can set up a fundraiser in just a few minutes.
  • If you create a certified charity fundraiser, we’ll send all funds directly to your charity. There’s no need to manage any of the funds yourself!
  • We make it easy to share your fundraiser with all your contacts through email and social media.

Still eager for more resources about charity fundraising? Discover charity fundraisers on GoFundMe for inspiration, or take a look at this list of our favorite charity blog posts:

  • Charity Event Ideas to Help Drive Donations
  • Understanding Tax Deductions for Charitable Donations
  • Charity Crowdfunding Guide: Supporting Your Favorite Cause
  • 11 Weird Charities You Didn’t Know Existed
  • How to Raise Money With a Charity Walk

Do good by giving back right now

Not everyone has the funds to support their favorite charity. If charitable giving isn’t in your budget, a fundraiser through GoFundMe can empower you to give back. Sign up to create your fundraiser today and start raising money for the best charities to donate to.

Start a charity fundraiser

Please Don’t Give To Charity, But If Give You Must…

Americans love giving to charity. I wish they didn’t, because charity is a luxury they cannot afford. With 30 years of retirement coming at them like a freight train and pennies in the piggy bank, their charity had better begin at home. Otherwise, they are effectively planning to become charity cases themselves. They need to top off their retirement accounts, pay off their credit card debt, and live within their means before handing out checks to others. Philanthropy is best played as a rich person’s sport, or at least one for the comfortably middle-class (which is to say, rich).

Fie on goodness! But if give you must, here are some tips to squeeze more Kickapoo Joy Juice from your eleemosynary greenback:

1) At the most elementary level, avoid all celebrity or athlete charities. Almost without exception, these are dodges set up to avoid paying taxes and employ deadbeat relatives while posturing to make themselves look noble. E.g., Kim Kardashian’s generous donation of 5% of the proceeds of her “Charity Auctions” to the likes of the “Life Change Community Church” owned by her mom, or Lady Gaga’s charity that took in $2.6MM in donations and then spent the money on lawyers, consultants and publicity (including $50,000 on ‘social media’) but only gave away $5,000 in grants. I don’t know why the IRS doesn’t crack down on charity scams more aggressively. Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses? It would warm my heart to see some of these people thrown in the hoosegow.

2) Does your old school really have any good use for the money? Ben Stein has pointed out that Yale is essentially a $21 billion hedge fund with a small college attached as a loss leader. Whenever people donate down this type of big, traditional sinkhole for philanthropic dollars, it always raises the question of whether, with a little more thought, they might have made a shrewder investment elsewhere.

3) Never give to anyone asking for money. The last thing you want is for half your donation to be siphoned off by some professional solicitor. Don’t put money in the box next to the cash register, even if it has a heartrending picture on it (unless it’s a tip jar — keep reading). Be very afraid of any charity that happens to cross your path: all that means is that they have a big marketing budget.

4) To put it more positively: everywhere and always where money is concerned, trust your money to the people you find, not to the people who find you. Give to the cause you prayerfully decide to back — not to the one in your face doing the big ask. If you want to throw them a bone, offer to look up their outfit on Charity Navigator when you review your annual giving. How much does your proposed charity spend on administration and fundraising? What does the CEO earn? Put as much effort into selecting your charity as you would in, say, selecting a new mobile phone.

5) Do not confuse the worthiness of the charity with the worthiness of the cause. Many of us would like to see peace on earth. That does not remotely suggest that a charity with peace on earth as its goal would have a clue how to use any money you gave them. I suspect that many big medical charities are overfunded beyond any intelligent ideas on to spend their next dollar.

6) The more generic the mission, the less your impact. Don’t toss nickels into the Grand Canyon. Give Well tracks how cost-effective a charity’s spending is. The more you concentrate all your giving on a single well-targeted charity (and that charity over a period of years), the more likely you are to actually accomplish something.

7 ) If it includes a gala night (and as Groucho said, a gala night is enough for any man) or tickets to some swell event, it’s not charity, it’s consumption. Similarly, while you may be blackmailed into giving to ankle biting friends when they hit you up for their walkathon to whatever, that’s office politics, not charity.

8) A dollar spent abroad goes much further than a dollar spent in the USA.

9) Congress has just extended the option to donate your mandatory IRA distribution to a charity. That is a rookie move. You will almost always do better giving appreciated stock from your taxable account to charity (getting rid of your embedded capital gains tax), and then using the deduction to convert a like amount from your traditional IRA to a Roth (lowering your future taxable required minimum distribution).

10) A dollar given directly to a person who needs it will be spent far more efficiently than a dollar put through the sieve of a benevolent bureaucracy in the hope that it trickles down somewhere. While you won’t get a tax deduction, you can give away half as much money and do far more good. As Milton Friedman says, the most efficient operation is where you have people spending their own money on their own behalf. The least efficient operation is where you have one group of people spending other people’s money on behalf of a yet a third group of people (which is how governments and charities operate). For an instant proof that will restore your faith in humanity, look at the effect of giving $100 tips to fast food workers here (get out your handkerchief and watch to the end). Overtipping entry-level workers has the salutary effect of rewarding those who are working hard to get ahead in life, as opposed to going on welfare or worse, which is their next best option if their current gig doesn’t pay off. The marginal George Washington means far more to them than the extra Ben Franklin stuffed in your wallet means to you. I credit my bro, economist Chris DeMuth, Sr. at the Hudson Institute, for this apercu into overtipping.

Notwithstanding the above, I donate to the Girl Scouts of America via the purchase of their devilishly delicious Thin Mint cookies at every opportunity. The more you eat, the thinner you get.

Do you feel under pressure when asked to donate money at the cash register? How to say ‘no’ to pushy charities

It was once safe to assume that giving money to charity was perceived as a worthy act, but in recent years a growing debate has gnawed away at that idea. Days like Giving Tuesday, which falls this year on Dec. 3, attempt to keep consumers focused on giving rather than spending.

Even though Americans are giving more money than ever to nonprofits, like many aspects of American life, there’s a divide in philanthropy. Fewer middle-income and lower-income households are giving money to charity, while richer donors proliferate, making bigger and bigger donations.

Some critics view mega-donations from people like Amazon AMZN, +7.38% founder Jeff Bezos and former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg as a troubling symptom of income inequality. Outsized philanthropic gifts let the wealthy advance their own self-serving agenda, they argue, while getting good press — and a tax deduction to boot.

‘Just say no when asked to make a contribution at the cash register, on the phone when it rings at dinner time, or on the sidewalk.’

Meanwhile, some of these philanthropists allegedly contribute to the very social problems they claim to be solving by heading companies that don’t pay their workers a liveable wage, critics say.

Phil Buchanan, the director of the nonprofit Center for Effective Philanthropy, addresses some of these critiques in his book, “Giving Done Right: Effective Philanthropy and Making Every Dollar Count” (2019).

His book comes as the college-admissions scandal and lawsuits against OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma, owned by the Sackler family, who are also major arts philanthropists, have served as reminders of the complicated relationship between the 1% and philanthropy.

He talked to MarketWatch about how donors can make better choices and what the rise of mega-donors means for democracy.

MarketWatch: What’s your advice for people who want to give money to charity?

Buchanan: Get clear about your own goals. You will feel more of a sense of satisfaction if you focus your giving, which means you have to say no to a lot.

Just say no when asked to make a contribution at the cash register, on the phone when it rings at dinner time, or on the sidewalk. If you respond just in the moment — based on emotion or pressure — you will look back on your charitable contributions and they will feel random.

Fewer middle-income and lower-income households are giving money to charity, while richer donors proliferate, making bigger and bigger donations.

We all have things we have to do. If your niece is raising money for her school project and asks you to make a contribution, you’re going to do it because it’s your niece. But you’ve got to limit that kind of giving if you want to really pursue some goals that are important to you.

MarketWatch: It’s hard to resist when everyone is looking at you at the cash register and they ask if you’d like to help a child who’s hungry today.

Buchanan: Right. But the reality is that is not a good moment, with a line of folks behind you, to make an informed and thoughtful decision.

You could argue, well it’s only one dollar. Still, I would say, it’s better to just budget for what can you set aside for giving. Maybe you let yourself have 20% for the relational stuff that you feel you need to do, like when your coworker is running a race for a disease that affected someone in her family.

Charis Loh Phil Buchanan, author of ‘Giving Done Right: Effective Philanthropy and Making Every Dollar Count.’

MarketWatch: In New York State’s recent lawsuit against opioid makers, Attorney General Tish James alleged that the Sackler family, the owners of OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharma, made major donations to museums including the Guggenheim and the Metropolitan Museum of Art to “whitewash their decades long success in profiting at New Yorkers’ expense.” How does that affect philanthropy as a whole?

(Editor’s note: The Sacklers have denied allegations that Purdue distributed hundreds of millions of dollars to the family when the pharmaceutical company discovered it was facing lawsuits over the opioid crisis in the U.S. related to OxyContin, a highly-addictive pain killer; the Sacklers have said they will defend themselves “vigorously.”)

Buchanan: It shouldn’t tarnish all of philanthropy anymore than Volkswagen VW, -0.95% cheating on the emissions test should tarnish all of business. We need to be able to distinguish between the bad actors and the good ones. Critique of philanthropy is healthy. But let’s critique particular problems or failures.

For example, I’m really critical of the Gates Foundation’s work in U.S. public education and I’m critical of a lot of particular examples of philanthropy that hasn’t worked very well. But I also have a lot of positive things to say about what the Gates Foundation has done in global health, though I’m sure they’d be the first to admit they haven’t gotten everything right there, either.

We need to be able to distinguish between the bad actors and the good ones. Critique of philanthropy is healthy. But let’s critique particular problems.

(Editor’s note: Last year, the Rand Corporation released a report, “Improving Teaching Effectiveness: Final Report,” which criticized the $575 million Intensive Partnerships for Effective Teaching initiative, designed and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and said it didn’t raise student grades or improve teacher retention or effectiveness.

Allan Golston, the president of the U.S. program at the Gates Foundation, told Education Week in a statement: “We believe that this work, which originated in ideas that came from the field, led to critical conversations and drove change and partnerships across the country. We have taken these lessons to heart, and they are reflected in the work that we’re doing moving forward.”)

MarketWatch: There’s a lot of critique right now that mega-donors hurt democracy by advancing their own agenda at the expense of others. Are mega-donors are problem in your view?

Buchanan: There’s been an unfortunate conflation of frustration with wealth inequality and frustration about our approach to taxation with broad-based cynicism about the motivations of anyone with wealth. My experience working with major donors is that most of them are not the Sacklers.

‘What do we really want to say to people? Do we want to say to them that we are so cynical that we will view with distrust every effort to try to give back?’

I am glad that Bill and Melinda Gates decided they wanted to try to do something about people dying globally of diseases they don’t need to be dying of. If you look at the decline in worldwide childhood mortality — which obviously cannot solely be attributed to the Gates Foundation — it’s stunning.

What do we really want to say to people? Do we want to say to them that we are so cynical that we will view with distrust every effort to try to give back? Or do we want to encourage people to give back and condemn what should be condemned?

Many of these critiques don’t even mention the well over 1 million nonprofit organizations that are affected by the decisions that people make about giving.

MarketWatch: What’s the right way for someone like Amazon founder Jeff Bezos to carry out their philanthropy?

Buchanan: One of the big challenges for major donors is that they almost by definition can be pretty disconnected from the people and the issues that they’re trying to address. Philanthropy usually is more effective when it is really informed by those closest to the ground.

I talk to a lot of big donors and I’ll ask them, “You were in business and your company IPO-ed and now you’re moving into being a significant donor, so how are you getting up to speed? What if you shadowed a couple of nonprofit directors and saw what it was like to do their jobs and talked to some of the intended beneficiaries of their work?”

The big challenge for someone like Jeff Bezos is how do you get out of the bubble, and really learn from those on the ground?

(This interview was edited for style and space.)

Leslie Albrecht

Leslie Albrecht is a personal finance reporter based in New York. She worked previously as a local news reporter at the New York City neighborhood news website DNAinfo, and as a reporter at the Modesto Bee and Merced Sun-Star, two McClatchy newspapers in California’s Central Valley. She is a graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Follow her on Twitter @ReporterLeslie.

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These are the charities where your money will do the most good

Giving to charity is great, not just for the recipients but for the givers, too.

But it can be intimidating to know how to pick the best charity, especially when there are thousands of worthy causes to choose from. Here are a few simple tips that can help.

1) Check in with charity recommenders

It’s of course possible to research charity options yourself, but it’s probably better to outsource that labor to a careful, methodologically rigorous charity recommender like GiveWell. (Charity Navigator and Guidestar can be useful resources too, but they don’t try to rank charities or assess which do the most good for the lowest cost.)

GiveWell currently lists eight top charities, listed in order of their funding needs. If you can only support one, they advise that you support the Malaria Consortium, which “can use funding most effectively in the near term.”

  • Malaria Consortium, which helps distribute preventative antimalarial medication to children (a program known as “seasonal malaria chemoprevention”).
  • Against Malaria Foundation, which buys and distributes insecticidal bed nets, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa but also in Papua New Guinea.
  • Helen Keller International, which provides technical assistance to, advocates for, and funds vitamin A supplementation programs in sub-Saharan Africa, which reduce child mortality.
  • Evidence Action’s Deworm the World Initiative, END Fund, and Sightsavers, which all work on deworming programs to prevent parasitic infections.
  • GiveDirectly, which directly distributes donations to poor people in Kenya and Uganda, to spend as they see fit.
  • Schistosomiasis Control Initiative (SCI), which also does deworming work, but which GiveWell recommends refraining from donating to until they give more information on their near-term funding needs.

GiveWell chose those charities based on how much good additional donations would do, not necessarily how good the groups are overall; in other words, these are organizations that can put new funding to use, rather than sitting on it.

GiveWell takes that factor seriously. In 2013, it revoked its recommendation of Against Malaria on the grounds that the charity had not spent enough of the money it already raised. In 2014, GiveWell judged that Against Malaria once again had room for more funding, and restored it on the recommendation list. So you can expect Against Malaria, and the other recommended charities, to spend anything you donate effectively and reasonably promptly.

The group also takes disconfirming research seriously. In 2017, it recommended Evidence Action’s No Lean Season, which offers no-interest loans to farmers in Bangladesh during the “lean season” between planting rice and harvesting it; the loans are conditional on a family member temporarily moving to a city or other area for short-term work. But a subsequent randomized evaluation found that the program didn’t actually spur people to migrate or increase their incomes, and GiveWell and Evidence Action then agreed that it should no longer be a top charity; Evidence Action stopped soliciting funds for it and later shut it down.

GiveWell recommends that, if you want to maximize your giving, you give through GiveWell to dispense the money at its discretion; GiveWell gets regular information on which highly effective charities need more money and which ones don’t, and can direct donations more efficiently than an individual donor. But if you’re not comfortable giving through GiveWell, giving directly to any of the eight is fantastic.

2) Pick charities with research-based strategies

GiveWell’s recommendations rely heavily on both evaluations done by charitable organizations and existing research literature on the kind of intervention the charities are trying to conduct.

For example, its recommendations of SCI, Sightsavers, the END Fund, and Deworm the World are based on research suggesting that providing children with deworming treatments could improve educational, economic, and other outcomes.

Research from the Poverty Action Lab at MIT suggests that giving away insecticidal bed nets for free — as the Against Malaria Foundation does — is vastly more effective than charging even small amounts for them.

And while cash certainly has its limits, hundreds of studies have found largely positive effects for the kind cash transfers that GiveDirectly distributes.

3) Give abroad

Women in Dedza, Malawi carry antimalarial bed nets. Against Malaria Foundation

It’s really hard to adequately express how much richer developed nations like the US are than developing ones like Kenya, Uganda, and other countries targeted by GiveWell’s most effective charities. We still have extreme poverty, in the living-on-$2-a-day sense, but it’s comparatively pretty rare and hard to target effectively. The poorest Americans also have access to health care and education systems that are far superior to those of developing countries. Giving to charities domestically is admirable, of course, but if you want to get the most bang for your buck in terms of saving lives, reducing illness, or improving overall well-being, you’re going to want to give abroad.

Years ago, GiveWell actually looked into a number of US charities, like the Nurse-Family Partnership program for infants, the KIPP chain of charter schools, and the HOPE job-training program. It found that all were highly effective but were far more cost-intensive than the best foreign charities. KIPP and the Nurse-Family Partnership cost more than $10,000 per child served, while deworming programs like SCI’s and Deworm the World’s generally cost between $0.25 and $1 per child treated.

Alternatively, you could consider giving to non-humans. Animal charities, particularly those engaged in corporate pressure campaigns to better the treatment of farm animals, chickens in particular, can be effective in improving animal welfare. The charity evaluations in this area are much younger and less methodologically rigorous than GiveWell’s, but Animal Charity Evaluators has named four animal groups that may be effective causes for donations:

  • Animal Equality, which conducts undercover investigations against factory farms, corporate campaigns to change food industry practices, and lobbying efforts to pass animal protection laws.
  • The Humane League, which specializes in corporate campaigns to improve farm standards, and has achieved big victories in eliminating the culling of baby chicks and getting food service companies like Kroger and Sodexo to only use cage-free eggs, and is now pushing for better standards for chickens raised for their meat.
  • The Good Food Institute, which promotes plant-based and cultured meat alternatives to animal-based foods.
  • The Albert Schweitzer Foundation, conducts corporate campaigns in Germany and Poland and is unusual in advocating for farmed fish as well as chickens and mammals.

4) If you do give locally, you can still consider impact

For years I would advocate to friends that they donate abroad, or to animal-specific charities, since their donation was likelier to have a concrete near-term impact there than in a human-based US charity, given how much money it costs to meaningfully help a resident of a rich country.

But I usually got a lot of pushback. People want to give to their specific communities, or particular causes they’re passionate about for personal reasons (like curing a disease that killed a loved one, say). And they often want to use charity as a way to connect with broader trends in the news — by, say, donating to help provide representation for immigrant children on the US-Mexico border.

For years I didn’t have much to say to that, other than to add that it’s of course fine to give to your community and personal causes; this guide is mostly meant to offer alternate suggestions if you don’t have existing philanthropic interests and are curious for ways to help.

But a new nonprofit has given some new, useful tools to people in this camp. ImpactMatters, co-founded by social entrepreneur Elijah Goldberg and economist Dean Karlan, attempts to quantify the bang-for-the-buck provided by charities in several different sectors. But whereas GiveWell is pretty opinionated about cause areas — it pushes hard toward charities that save lives or dramatically improve financial well-being — ImpactMatters isn’t.

So you can specify that your goal is, say, to provide a night of shelter for a person experiencing homelessness, and ImpactMatters will provide you with a menu of nonprofits and their cost-per-night-of-housing. Fellowship Deliverance Ministries in Georgia, for instance, is estimated to provide a night of shelter for $2 per person. You can also narrow down by where you want to give: here’s a list of San Francisco-specific charities, for instance.

ImpactMatters just launched for the 2019 giving season. And it has already sparked a bit of concern in some corners of the philanthropy world. Julia Coffman, director of the Center for Evaluation Innovation, had a thoughtful critique on Twitter, arguing that trying to quantify impact like this is “too reductionist” and that “Since many direct service orgs also do systems change, I worry cost-effectiveness in relation to impact penalizes orgs that expend $ addressing systemic and structural factors that affect both their clients’ needs and their ability to deliver services in a cost-effective way.”

That’s fair — giving for societal change is really hard to do and even harder to evaluate. The causal inference behind ImpactMatters’ estimates is also necessarily limited; they can’t run whole experiments to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of every single charity, so instead they build detailed models to try to approximate an estimate of each charity’s impact (here’s their methodology for emergency shelters for people experiencing homelessness, for instance).

But for a certain set of donors, ImpactMatters is a useful tool that might point them in the direction of nonprofits they hadn’t known about previously, and which are doing good in their specific areas.

5) Consider meta-charities

Another option is giving to groups like GiveWell, Innovations for Poverty Action, the Life You Can Save, Giving What We Can, and 80,000 Hours that evaluate development approaches/charities and encourage effective giving. Suppose that every dollar given to Giving What We Can — which encourages people to pledge to donate at least 10 percent of their income until retirement — results in $1.20 in donations to the Against Malaria Foundation. If that’s the case, then you should give to Giving What We Can until the marginal effect on donations to Against Malaria hits $1 or lower.

“If they can turn a dollar of donations into substantially more than a dollar of increased donations to effective charities, isn’t that the best use of my money?” asks Jeff Kaufman, a software developer who with his wife, the fantastic effective altruism activist and organizer Julia Wise, gives about half his income to effective charities and meta-charities.

6) Saving lives isn’t everything

Two Schistosoma mansoni, one of the parasites that causes schistosomiasis (which SCI combats). Schistosomiasis is not usually lethal, but it can permanently harm children’s development and growth.Stephen Davies/Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences

If you only care about reducing early mortality and giving people more years to live, then you should give all your donations to the the Malaria Consortium, Helen Keller International or the Against Malaria Foundation. Malaria is a frequently fatal disease, and cost-effective interventions to reduce malaria infection are a great way to save lives. Similarly, Vitamin A supplementation, like HKI does, is an effective way of reducing child mortality.

But the rest of the charities GiveWell recommends don’t mainly focus on reducing mortality. Quality of life matters, too. Parasitic infections hamper children’s development and education, which can have negative consequences lasting decades. Having increased access to cash may not extend the life of a GiveDirectly recipient, but it does make life considerably more pleasant.

7) Don’t give to a big charity

You’ll notice that all of the charities GiveWell recommends are reasonably small, and some big names are absent. That’s not an accident. In general, charity effectiveness evaluators are skeptical of large relief organizations, for a number of reasons.

Large organizations tend to be less transparent about where their money goes and also likelier to direct money to disaster relief efforts, which are usually less cost-effective, in general, than public health programs. “Overall, our impression is that your donation to these organizations is very hard to trace, but will likely supplement an agenda of extremely diverse programming, driven largely by governments and other very large funders,” writes GiveWell co-founder Holden Karnofsky.

8) Maybe just give money directly to poor people

GiveDirectly uses the M-PESA system for mobile cash transfers. GiveDirectly

For years one of my primary charities was GiveDirectly, which is the only cause outside public health to get GiveWell’s top rating, and, to my knowledge, the only charity devoted to unconditional cash transfers. I gave to them partly because there’s a large body of research on the benefits of cash transfers, which I find quite compelling.

(I have ceased donating to them since Future Perfect started and instead give to GiveWell’s top charities bucket, as a way to avoid conflicts of interest as I write more about charity. I view the GiveWell option as equivalent to investing in index funds to avoid any bias as a business reporter.)

But I donated to GiveDirectly mostly because I didn’t trust myself to know what the world’s poorest people need most. I’ve been profoundly lucky to never experience the kind of extreme poverty that billions of people worldwide have to endure. I have no idea what I would spend a cash transfer from GiveDirectly on if I were living on less than $2 a day in Uganda. Would I buy a bed net? Maybe! Or maybe I’d buy an iron roof. Or school tuition for loved ones. Or cattle.

But you know who does have a good sense of the needs of poor people in Uganda? Poor people in Uganda. They have a very good idea of what they need. Do they sometimes misjudge their spending priorities? Certainly; so do we all. And bed nets and deworming treatments appear to be underpurchased relative to the actual need for them. But generally, you should only give something other than cash if you are confident you know the recipients’ needs better than they do. With the exception of bed nets — which really do seem underprovided when they’re just put up for sale rather than given away for free — I’m not confident of that. So I gave cash.

As the World Bank’s Jishnu Das once put it, “‘Does giving cash work well’ is a well-defined question only if you are willing to say that ‘well’ is something that WE, the donors, want to define for families whom we have never met and whose living circumstances we have probably never spent a day, let alone a lifetime, in.” If you’re not willing to say that, then you should strongly consider giving cash.

9) Give what you can (though if you can spare it, pledging to give 10 percent of your income would be fantastic)

One of the hardest problems in philanthropy is deciding how much to donate.

There are some people who argue the correct answer, unless you’re near the end of your life, is nothing: you should, on this view, not give to charity during your career, and instead save as much of your money as possible and donate it when you die (my colleague Kelsey Piper explains why this is probably not a good approach).

Another approach is to “earn to give”: take a high-paying job, typically in finance or tech, and give a huge share, like 40 to 50 percent, of your earnings away.

I wrote about people who do this back in 2013, and I know that many of the people I profiled still earn-to-give; for them, at least, this is a sustainable option. It’s a really good career option if you like working in finance and tech, but frankly it’s not the best option for most people, and there are a lot of amazing jobs — in scientific research, in the private sector, in direct charity or nonprofit or government work — where the typical person can do more good than they could by using their career as a mechanism through which to generate donation money.

So I suggest a more moderate course. I’ve signed the Giving What We Can pledge, which commits members to donating 10 percent of their annual income to highly effective charities. That is a totally reasonable number, comparable to alms in many religions, that requires relatively minimal sacrifice relative to what earn-to-give people do.

Even if 10 percent is too much for you, though, don’t despair. Giving $1 is better than giving $0. Perhaps the most important thing is to just get into the groove of donating, to make it a habit. I use direct deposit on my paychecks to make most of my charitable contributions, just so it’s extremely automatic and hard for me to avoid doing. Going from not giving to giving a little, regularly, is a huge positive step.

Sign up for the Future Perfect newsletter. Twice a week, you’ll get a roundup of ideas and solutions for tackling our biggest challenges: improving public health, decreasing human and animal suffering, easing catastrophic risks, and — to put it simply — getting better at doing good.

How far do your donation dollars really go toward the causes you care about? Are they squandered away on overpaid executives or bad investments?

Non-profit watchdog Charity Navigator regularly analyzes the financial documents of tens of thousands of non-profits and scores them on their Financial Health and Accountability & Transparency. Those two scores then translate into a perfect 100 point overall score. Less than 1% of the thousands of charities rated by Charity Navigator have earned perfect scores.

According to Charity Navigator, accountability is willingness by a charity to explain its actions to its stakeholders and transparency is their willingness to publish critical data about the organization. Financial health addresses a variety of factors, including fundraising efficiency and administrative expenses.

Here are 30 charities that have perfect scores in these areas.

American Himalayan Foundation

American Himalayan Foundation
Category: International
The American Himalayan Foundation helps people in need in the Himalaya region. In these remote regions, people often struggle without access to schools or clinics, thousands of young girls are in danger of being sold into modern-day slavery, and traditional ways of life are disappearing. They focus on opening doors to education and healthcare, preventing girls from being trafficked, helping families become financially independent, building stronger communities, and keeping ancient cultures alive. Above, a group of Nepalese children on their way to school in Arughat, Nepal.
Photo: Elegua / .com

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20 incredible charities that give 99% of the money they get to the actual cause

Brace for impact.

Last year, Americans gave more than $389 billion to charity, with individual donations — versus corporate or foundation donations — representing about three-fourths of this total. And this year, as the economy continues to improve, we’re expected to give even more. American individuals and households will likely increase their giving by 3.0% in 2017, according to research from the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University.

As we’re giving more, many of us are no doubt wondering: How much of my money is going to the actual cause versus to things like administrative or fundraising costs? So Moneyish teamed up with Charity Navigator, a nonprofit that evaluates charitable organizations, to figure out which highly rated charities give the most money to the actual programs they’re supporting, versus administrative or fundraising efforts.

Here’s a list of Charity Navigator’s top 20 high-impact organizations — all of which give 99% of the money they receive to the cause and have high overall ratings, in terms of financial health, accountability and transparency. Giving 99% of the money you receive to the cause is exceptional — even in a world where most funds do go towards the cause: About seven in 10 charities give 75% or more to the cause and nine in 10 give 60% or more to the cause, Charity Navigator has found.

Charity Name Percentage of funds that go directly to the cause, versus administrative or fundraising costs
International Children’s Fund 99.70%
The Foodbank of Southern California 99.60%
CIS Development Foundation 99.50%
Matthew 25: Ministries 99.40%
Kids In Need Foundation 99.40%
Brother’s Brother Foundation 99.40%
Direct Relief 99.40%
MAP International 99.30%
Delivering Good 99.30%
Books For Africa 99.20%
Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma 99.20%
Christian Blind Mission International 99.20%
Midwest Food Bank, NFP 99.20%
World Medical Relief 99.20%
Feeding Tampa Bay 99.10%
Feeding America’s Hungry Children 99.10%
Caring Voice Coalition 99.00%
Foster Care to Success 99.00%
Good360 99.00%

Source: Charity Navigator

Still, it’s important to note that not all charities can reasonably give 85% or more of the money they get to program expenses — that’s money going right to the program/cause versus fundraising and administrative costs — and that allocating less to program expenses doesn’t mean the charity isn’t making a huge impact, says Sally Boulter, the senior engagement officer at ImpactAssets, a firm that focuses on investing that makes a difference.

No matter where you give money, it’s important to remember a few things about giving this holiday season, experts say.

Consider where you want to give, says Boulter. Ask yourself: “what is your personal mission– the causes you care about?” and also how you want to make a difference, she says. So, let’s say you care about animals — you’ll want to identify charities that focus on animals, and then look at how each of those organizations makes a difference in that field. If you want to change laws around animal rights, you’d likely give to a much different organization than if you want to make sure strays find nice homes.

Vet the charity. Websites can make figuring out if a charity is legit and solid pretty simple. Boulter says that sites like Charity Navigator (for those giving smaller gifts) and GuideStar (for those giving larger gifts) — both of which rate charitable organizations and give you information about them — are decent starting points for vetting charities.

Think about when to give. Boulter says you shouldn’t wait until late December to give. “Stores are not the only ones who are busy during this season. Charities, brokers and the post office are all running at capacity. If you want to get credit for your gift in 2017, it is best to do it early,” she says.

Make an even bigger impact. Facebook and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are teaming up to match up to $2 million in funds raised for charities on Giving Tuesday, which is November 28th. Here’s how you can make sure your donation gets matched; Facebook will also waive its usual fee for making donations.

See the impact of the charity’s work firsthand, says Susan Hartley Moss, the senior vice president at EMM Wealth. “Nothing can take the place of a site visit and seeing them in their own environment. Site visits are invaluable to the decision-making process,” she says.

Consider the tax implications. Be sure to note charitable donations on your tax forms. If you itemize your deductions, there is a federal income tax deduction for charitable gifts — and some states also allow charitable deductions, explains Carol Kroch, the national director of philanthropic planning at Wilmington Trust. Plus, if you’ve own stock for more than a year that has appreciated, you may want to consider gifting that to a charity, as you may be able to avoid the capital gains tax you otherwise would have paid when you sold the stock, Kroch says.

This story was originally published in November 2017 and has been updated.

Catey Hill

Catey Hill is MarketWatch’s senior content strategist. She writes about how to upgrade your life, and helps readers find great deals on products and services. Follow her on Twitter @CateyHill.

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These 11 companies are currently donating their proceeds to charities

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If you love to shop, then you probably get a little shopping high every time you see something new and exciting out there. But what about the feeling that you not only got a new product you love, but you helped someone else in return? Well, with these companies donating their proceeds to charity, you can achieve that ultimate benefit of retail + charity = doing some good.

As the holiday season is upon us, you may also be looking for different ideas for Christmas gifts. Purchasing a present from a company that also gives back is kind of the epitome of the holiday spirit. Not only were you generous in giving a gift, but your present has an even bigger impact!

Whether it’s attire, accessories, household products, or food, check out these 11 companies who will do good with your purchase.

1. The Elephant Pants

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This clothing company donates 10 percent of their proceeds to the African Wildlife Foundation to help fight elephant poaching and so far, they have donated over $100,000. These breezy, beautiful pants allow you to be fashionable and help the elephants.

2. Newman’s Own

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Created by Hollywood icon Paul Newman, you can enjoy delicious salsa and pizza knowing that all of the profits will be going to Newman’s Own Foundation.

3. Roma Boots

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Not only does Roma Boots follow the model of one-for-one where they donate a pair of boots to a child in need for every purchase (like TOMS does), it also donates 10 percent of proceeds from their rain boots to educational initiatives around the world.

4. Love Bottle

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Get a gorgeous water bottle made of glass. You’ll not only help the environment by cutting back on plastic, but Love Bottle donates 5 percent of each bottle to Global Water, a nonprofit that helps bring safe, clean drinking water to rural villages in developing countries.

5. Feed

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Your purchase of a FEED bag, shirt, scarf, or jewelry helps in the fight against hunger through their model of giving, which includes donating school meals and supporting mother-child nutrition programs. How much the company gives depends on what you buy — for example, if you purchase this versatile Go-To bag, they will provide 40 school meals to children around the world.


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HALF UNITED also helps to fight hunger with their jewelry and shirts. With every purchase, they’ll donate seven meals to children in need in places like the U.S., Fiji, Cambodia, Liberia, Nepal, and Haiti.

7. Gravy + Grace

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Even buying home decor and accessories can help fight hunger through the company Gravy + Grace, which states that every time you purchase something from their store, they will “make a donation to help someone else get the food they need.”


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Enjoy your wine knowing that the purchase helped someone else with ONEHOPE. Each bottle helps different charitable organizations — for example, the purchase of every four Rainbow Glitter Edition Brut Sparkling Wine bottles will help fund The Trevor Project’s lifeline — a suicide hotline for LGBTQ youth. Other bottles range in prices from reasonable to expensive and can help provide medical care to local Napa farmers, fund cancer research, and support veteran resources.

9. GreaterGood

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You can buy clothing, toys, jewelry, accessories, and pet products through the GreaterGood to help donate to causes like hunger, breast cancer, animals, veterans, autism, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, literacy, and the rainforest. This travel mug is perfect for a cat lover not just because of its design, but because purchasing it provides the money to pay for 28 bowls of animal food. (But you can also change which organization you want to contribute at checkout.)

10. LUSH

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If you buy LUSH’s Charity Pot, a hand and body lotion, 100 percent of the proceeds (minus taxes) goes to “supporting humanitarian, environmental, and animal rights causes locally and around the world.” The cosmetics company also has a charitable soap.

11. Amazig Leather

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Amazig’s profits go to support educational initiatives among the people who makes these gorgeous leather goods in Morocco. And they’re not as pricey as you’d expect!

So whether you’re shopping for yourself or for someone else, consider buying from these generous companies.

  • By Caitlin Gallagher

Sites like Charity Navigator are helpful in showing you what percentage of your giving goes to support the mission of the nonprofit, as opposed to administrative expenses. Some nonprofits may have quite a bit of overhead, but for a charity to truly be effective at meeting its mission, it should work to reduce fundraising and administrative (overhead) expenses and instead devote as much of their budget as possible to support their programs.

How Does Your Favorite Charity Measure Up?

The following charities are hugely popular with donors and appear on Charity Navigator’s lists of most viewed charities. Do you know how much money they spend on actual programming?

American Red Cross

The do-gooders at the American Red Cross do a good job of spending your money when you donate. They manage to keep administrative expenses at less than 5 percent of their total overhead, and they spend about 91 cents for every dollar donated on actual programs that benefit the community. Whether it’s teaching CPR or managing a crisis during the aftermath of a disaster, the Red Cross puts your money to good use.

World Vision

Approximately 85 percent of income donated to World Vision goes to help stamp out poverty around the world. While they are still well below the 33 percent benchmark, they tend to spend more on fundraising than other highly-rated charities in this category. Nonetheless, if stamping out poverty is your passion, World Vision does a good job with your money.

Doctors Without Borders

These brave folks at Doctors Without Borders go into the most deplorable conditions to bring healing to others. Your money here is well spent. According to their website, about 89 percent of total revenue goes to supporting their programs.

St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital

St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital is known predominantly for their widespread fundraising campaigns. They pair celebrities with children who have cancer to talk about the great work they do. The hospital itself is a research hospital that specializes in childhood cancers and other life threatening diseases. No one is ever turned away for their inability to pay, and the hospital covers travel, housing, food, and treatment for the families whose children are patients there. Perhaps more remarkable, the hospital spends about 27 percent of its income on fundraising and administrative costs. Considering this is a hospital with significant expenses, the fact that St. Jude is able to come spend less than 33.3 percent benchmark is impressive. Overall, they do quite well with your donated dollars.

The Nature Conservancy

The Nature Conservancy is focused on protecting and conserving water and land across the globe. They work on every single continent to address issues of environmental significance. The organization holds themselves to the highest standards of accountability and ensures 71.2 percent of their income goes towards science-driven programs, according to their website.

Charities With Low Overhead

While these might not be the most popular nonprofits, the following charities know how to get the most bang for their bucks. With less than 10 percent overhead, these charities will spend 90 percent or more of the money you donate on actual goods and services that support their missions.

  • Greater Chicago Food Depository, as its name implies, distributes food to the hungry in the greater Chicago area. They distribute some 200,000 pounds of food daily.
  • Oregon Food Bank distributes meals through traditional food pantries, supplemental meal programs, and congregate meal sites. In addition, they seek to use education to promote food security by teaching people how to cook, how to garden, and how to support community efforts. They take both monetary and food donations.
  • The Conservation Fund works with a variety of initiatives to conserve land, water, and other natural resources. The Fund works in all 50 states.
  • Give Kids the World is a resort village in Florida that provides week-long vacations, free-of-charge, to families who have a child facing a life-threatening illness.
  • UNICEF uses a variety of programs, from emergency response to education, to support children. They work in over 190 countries to improve the lives of children through a variety of initiatives.

Charities With Moderate Overhead

The following popular charities spend 20 to 30 cents on the donated dollar for overhead and administrative expenses.

  • Oxfam America seeks to end poverty. They focus on four areas that address both immediate intervention (such as natural disasters), as well as long-term solutions like public education and advocacy for social justice.
  • The American Society for the Prevention of the Cruelty of Animals (ASPCA) focuses on two key issues: animal homelessness and preventing animal cruelty. Charity Navigator notes they spend about 25 percent of their income on overhead like administrative costs and fundraising.
  • Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation is dedicated to promoting contemporary art and artists. It does its work through world-famous museums, which house educational outreach and various artistic collaborations.
  • American Jewish Committee is an organization that works across the globe to advocate for Jewish communities, as well as to promote human rights and democratic values for everyone.

Charities With High Overhead

If you care deeply that the bulk of your money goes to benefit people directly, these are charities you may want to investigate further before making your donation. The following charities spend 30 cents or more for every donated dollar on things like overhead, administrative costs, and fundraising.

  • George Bush Presidential Library Foundation is a foundation dedicated to preserving the historical events of George H. W. Bush’s presidency, (not to be confused with his son, George W. Bush.) Charity Navigator says about 40 percent of donations go to meet overhead expenses.
  • American Printing House for the Blind works towards building independence for visually impaired people by creating products to help the blind at work or home. Approximately 35 percent of funds go to administrative expenses.
  • America SCORES uses soccer, combined with writing, creative expression, and service learning to help urban kids. Their program is aligned with standards for English, service-learning, and physical education. About a third of their funds go to administrative and fundraising expenses.
  • The Autism Spectrum Disorder Foundation provides assistance to families with members on the autism spectrum. However, Charity Navigator notes nearly 85 percent of funds go to overhead.

Whether your passion is art or tapirs in the rainforest, there is a charity that would like to put to use your hard-earned dollars. Choosing a charity can be a hit or miss, though, if you don’t do your research. Fortunately, not only are there charity watchdog groups, but charities are also required to file certain documents for public viewing.

Charity Watchdog Resources

In addition to Charity Navigator, there are several other impartial groups who simply collect information and present it for donors’ consideration. Any of the following resources is a good place to start when you’re considering giving away your money:

  • CharityWatch – The American Institute of Philanthropy puts out this website that rates hundreds of charities on their financial dealings. If you know the name of your charity, searching will be much easier.
  • GuideStar – GuideStar collects 990 forms and other public financial data for many charities. It focuses on a community interface that lets you leave commentary about specific charities, as well.
  • Give Well – Give Well reviews hundreds of charities in addition to giving you guidance in reviewing nonprofits they may not have reviewed yet.

Questions You Can Ask

If you find the charity you want to give to has not yet been rated on any watchdog sites, you can do the legwork yourself. Ask the following questions when you’re researching to help guide you on your giving:

  • Is the nonprofit actually a charity? You can find this out by searching for its 990 form. This information is typically found on a charity watchdog site; however, you can also visit the Wise Giving Alliance at the Better Business Bureau to see if anything has been filed for your charity. Note that religious institutions, such as churches and synagogues, typically do not have to file a 990.
  • Are there complaints against the charity’s practices? Again, this information is found easily on the Wise Giving Alliance website.
  • Do the charity’s marketing materials clearly state the problem and explain what they are doing to help? Be wary of charities who drone on about the problem but fail to state what they are doing to help it.
  • Ask the organization what percentage of donations go to actually support the programs in lieu of overhead and administrative costs. Be wary of a charity that says 100 percent of donations go to support the cause. After all, there has to be at least some overhead.

Informed Philanthropy

Making informed choices is the best way to make sure your dollar goes to support causes you deeply care about. To further ensure your money is well-spent on a cause that you are passionate about, consider volunteering your time and talents so you can see first hand what happens from donation dollar to the delivery of programs and services.