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3 Things to Consider Before Giving to a Charity

The following post is from Christina of Northern Cheapskate:

Salvation Army Christmas donations
photo credit: docentjoyce

I helped the kids select food items from our pantry this week to contribute to the “Stuff a Truck” fundraiser for the local food shelf at their school.

They were pretty motivated by the possibility of a pizza party for the class who brought the most food.  I wanted to makes sure that the pizza party wasn’t their only motivation.

You see, my boys don’t really get the concept of hunger.  They may tell you they’re “staaaaarving”, but in reality, they’ve never had to go longer than a few hours without eating something.  I was happy to have this fundraising opportunity to sit down with them and talk with them about the need for the food shelf in our community and what it does.  We had a good conversation about why it is important to help others and why this was a good cause for us to support as a family.

Do a bit of homework on the organization you want to support. Have they established themselves as a registered non-profit organization? How is the organization structured? What systems do they have in place for managing their funds? Are they clear about the percentage of donations that go to the cause?

That conversation got me thinking about other charitable organizations and how we decide what to support.  Consider these things before you support a cause with your time and/or money:

Make sure the charity aligns with your values.

What things are most important to you?  Where do you want to help?   Don’t give money to something because you feel pressured to do so.  Give because you believe in the cause.  Give because you know in your soul that it is the right thing to do.

Make sure that the organization you are supporting does what it says it does.  Look for measurable results of their activities.  Don’t throw your money away on organizations that don’t get things done.

Some people prefer to support local causes because they like to see the impact their donation makes firsthand.  Others like to help people on the other side of the globe.  The important thing is that you support the cause that makes the most sense to you and your family based on your values.

Make sure the charity is a reputable organization.

Do a bit of homework on the organization you want to support.  Have they established themselves as a registered non-profit organization?   How is the organization structured? What systems do they have in place for managing their funds and making decisions on how to spend those funds?  Is it easy to get involved as a volunteer?

Stay away from for-profit organizations and be wary of organizations that have a lot of staff.  You want to make sure that your money is actually going to support a cause, not line the pockets of the staff. You should also be leery of organizations that don’t keep good business records, offer receipts in a timely manner, or are not welcoming to community members who want to help.

Make sure the charity spends wisely.

A local children’s charity can have an excellent reputation and still be lousy with how it handles its money. That’s why looking at the charity’s financial reports or visiting a site like Charity Navigator can help you determine if the charity makes the most of its financial resources.   The best charities keep their overhead costs very low so that more money can go where it is needed most.   Watch for charities that send a lot of free gifts when you donate, send excessive mailings, or do a lot of phone calls, as these are all expenses that don’t do much to support your cause.

One sign that your charity makes the most of its resources is a large volunteer base.  If an organization has a large group of enthusiastic volunteers, chances are good that they know how to keep costs low and focus on the cause.

Final Thoughts on Giving

Don’t worry if you don’t have much money to give:  You can be generous even when your broke.  Most charities are thrilled to receive any dollar amount – big or small, so just do what you can, and know that you are making a difference.

How do you decide where to donate your time and money?

Christina Brown is the creator of Northern Cheapskate, a blog dedicated to frugal living through coupons, freebies, and money-saving ideas. She lives in the rural north woods of Minnesota where she clips coupons, pinches pennies, and chases her three boys (a 7-year-old and twin 5-year olds) as a stay-at-home mom.