Give Wisely: Tips for Informed Giving

How to achieve big community impact with your charitable donations

‘Tis the season of giving! It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the ever-expanding list of community needs that exist in the world today, and to be inundated by requests for your attention (and your financial help). We all want to make a difference in the lives of our neighbors and friends, but how do we decide where to focus our time and attention? What should we look for when we are picking a charity to support? Which organizations will use your hard-earned money in the most effective and responsible way?

A little research goes a long way when it comes to making informed giving decisions. Here are some tips to help you invest your donation in a way that will make the largest possible social impact.

Focus on your values.

Thinking about what you value will help you narrow down your list of options. Find a cause to invest in that feels personal to you and be specific about the impact you would like your investment to have. Are you more interested in research that identifies and addresses the root causes of a societal problem, say homelessness? Or do you want to invest in an organization providing immediate services for the homeless in the community? Once you’ve identified your priorities, you can begin to research charities that match your interests.

Make sure the cause or charity is authentic.

Pleas for charitable donations are intended to tug at your heartstrings, and to prompt an immediate response. Always be diligent – especially when it come to backing online crowdfunding efforts – and take the time to do research before committing.

Make sure the charity you are considering is a tax exempt 501(c)(3) public charity. If you aren’t sure, ask for the organization’s EIN and search the IRS website. (Only a registered nonprofit will be able to provide you with a tax receipt). *Be sure you are researching the correct organization! For instance, United Way of North Central Ohio is a fully independent local nonprofit; our use of the United Way name allows us to take advantage of tools and resources available from the worldwide organization, but we are a separate entity with our own EIN and tax exempt certificate.

Legitimate charitable organizations should be accountable and fully transparent. Charities that are an open book and follow good governance practices are less likely to engage in unethical or irresponsible activities. GuideStar lists loads of information for every nonprofit registered with the IRS.

Discover results and impact.

Before making your donation, talk with the charity and explore their presence (website, social media, charity rating organizations) to learn about its accomplishments, goals, and challenges. Invest in a charity that has the ability to bring long-lasting meaningful change to the community. Make sure you know where the charity stands and where it plans to go. Legitimate charities are passionate about the work they do and are eager to share this information.

Talk to friends and family.

Ask your friends and family where they give and why! It’s a great way to learn about other charities and gain new perspective on giving. If you have friends who have not made charitable donations, this is the perfect opportunity to explain why you give to charity, and to share your favorite charities with them.