Smart Steps in Supporting a Charity

by Emily Guy Birken

For several years now, my husband and I have been putting money aside each month for charitable gifts. It’s been a great way to know that we can make a difference—no matter how small—for our favorite charities. However, once you have started giving to charity, you will find yourself solicited over and over by various organizations. How do you know who deserves your donation?

While there are illegitimate charities and scams posing as charities out there, most of the charitable organizations are real and do need your help. Here are some ways to make the most of your donation and feel good knowing that your money truly is going to help a good cause.


The joy of giving

1. Make sure you choose which charity gets your money. I’ll admit that most of my charitable giving throughout the years was in reaction to a solicitation. Someone called, mailed, emailed, stopped me outside the library, knocked on my door, or even requested my help on TV, and I got out my checkbook. While there is not necessarily anything wrong with giving money because of a solicitation, you want to make sure you really know whom you are giving your money to. A way to avoid feeling flat-footed is to be proactive and find the charities you are most interested in before someone is asking you for money. That way you have the time to really investigate the charity and you can honestly tell the earnest solicitor that you don’t donate money over the phone/door-to-door/outside the library.

A great resource for finding out more about charities is This website rates charities based on their financial health.

2. Only donate to organizations with 501 (c) (3) status. This tax-exempt status is granted by the IRS to nine types of charitable organizations: those committed to religious, charitable, educational, scientific or literary purposes, those committed to testing for public safety, those fostering amateur sports, those promoting the arts, and those committed to preventing cruelty to children or animals. Not only does the 501 (c) (3) status reassure you that the organization fits the IRS’s basic requirements for a charitable organization (although that is clearly not all you should use to evaluate a charity), it also grants you a tax deduction on your charitable donation.

3. Opt out of having your name circulated. Many charities have a donor privacy policy that will keep your name and contact information private from other charities. However, even charities with such a policy may require you to opt out of having your information shared. Tell your favorite charities to keep your name off of circulating lists, and you’ll have fewer solicitations to wade through in your mailbox.

4. Choose one or two charities to support and stick with them. Once you’ve done your homework, go ahead and limit your giving to no more than a handful of charities. Not only does that make it easier for you to say no to solicitations, but it also helps you build a relationship with a cause you care about, and it means that you can see more good done with the money you can afford to donate. And if you have a long-term relationship with a charity, that means that the organization can spend less on solicitation since it will know it can count on a donation from you. If everyone gave money this way, then charities could focus more attention on their causes and less on trying to get more funds.

Giving to charity is one of my favorite parts of being on a budget—I now have the money set aside to help make the world a better place. Get that same feeling by giving to a charity that you believe in.

Photo credit: Mr. Kris.

Published or updated June 1, 2011.
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