Choosing the Charity That’s Right For You

For many of us, the desire to help those less fortunate comes from how we were raised. If your parents gave to charities, chances are good that you will too. Giving is nurture, not nature, so if you come from a giving household, supporting charities might very well be part of your mental DNA.

As one dedicated charity supporter explains, “I guess it’s ingrained in me by my parents. Both my mother and father volunteered within their communities and schools wherever they lived. So I believe that no matter where you stand financially, there are always those who have less. Everyone should be helping others either with their time or with their checkbook.”

It’s safe to say that people such as our friend above usually choose to support charities that are the ones their parents supported, or to which they are personally close.

Hundreds of Thousands of Charities

If you want to choose your own charity to support, writes author Beth Kerkove on lifescript.com, “Start with your personal beliefs and feelings.” You want to select a charity that is based on your own values with emotional connections to your world.

There are literally hundreds of thousands of charities in the U.S. from which to choose. All told, approximately 1,521,000 charitable organizations existed in the United States in 2015, some great, some not so great, and some bald face rip offs.

Why so many? Because Americans are a charitable bunch, giving more than $358 billion in 2014, according to research by the National Philanthropic Trust. Individual donors, as opposed to corporate giving, represented the largest source of charitable funds at $258.5 billion, or 72 percent of total giving.

Keep in mind that although money is important to charities, so is a person’s willingness to roll up the old sleeves and help with labor. It’s estimated by Independent Sector that people who volunteered their time in 2015 were, if getting paid, earning $23.56 an hour. Charities like Habitat for Humanity, which builds affordable housing worldwide, place as much value on muscle – called sweat equity – as money.

Charities by Categories

Whether you are interested in making a monetary or in-kind (i.e., non-monetary) donation, Kerkove lists a few of the more common categories of charities that will benefit from either money or in-kind donations, or both.

  • Mentoring/after-school programs. These community-funded programs frequently sponsored by the Boys and Girls Clubs and similar organizations put adult volunteers face-to-face with school-aged kids.
  • Homeless shelters. Shelters are a place for people who have nowhere to stay and maybe long- or short-term facilities. There are many ways from money to blankets that you can support a facility near you.
  • Book-based programs. Your local library probably has a program to assist people who have problems reading or getting to books. Shut-ins cannot travel to the local library to get books, and they may not have a computer or digital device. So a volunteer-supported “bookmobile” must bring the books to them.
  • Faith-based charities. Some of the most organized charities are run by faith-based entities of all religions, providing programs that help the poor in the U.S. and worldwide.
  • Animal shelters and programs. Local humane societies and shelters are always in need and greatly appreciates your time to walk the dogs, hold the cats, and donate pet food and pillows.

How to Choose a Charity

Whether you jump on the Internet, talk to friends or are attracted to some commercial you saw on TV, Dahna Chandler of TrustedChoice.com recommends that first and foremost, listen to your heart in making a selection since giving is an emotional decision. If you consider yourself to be religious, choose an organization that is faith-based. If you are an animal lover, consider volunteering your time or giving money at your local animal shelter.

Secondly, use your head. Spend time doing research on various charities in which you are interested. Find out as much as you can about the organization before you make any commitment. In addition, ask your friends and colleagues where they donate their time and money and why, and how much satisfaction they get from their contributions.

It might be helpful to visit such web sites as charitynavigator.org, charitywatch.org, viralnova.com and guidestar.org that rate the worthiness of different charities. If you are selecting a charity for your business or your employer, you might want to start by visiting www.trustedchoice.com or www.give.org.

Know the facts. Charities in the United States are required to divulge their accounting and spending records. You can find out from any legitimate charity’s web site how much money they actually spend on helping and how much they spend on administrative costs.

Finally, use your gut. Once you feel you have the information you need, trust your intuition (i.e., heart plus mind) to make your decision. Whether it’s giving time, money or other forms of support, feel confident with your decision and the knowledge that your contributions will really make a difference.