Giving to the Right Pockets
Around the holidays, there are a variety of bells that we have come to know: sleigh bells, jingle bells and the charity bells. Every year you walk past the bundled-up volunteers who are ringing their bells and greeting strangers in hopes that you will feel moved by the spirit of the season to support their cause.
The holiday season is commonly a season of giving. Network for Good, an online giving platform established in 2001, examines charity websites, portals and social giving on peer-to-peer websites to determine and evaluate online giving trends, all reported in its Digital Giving Index. The 2014 Index found that 31 percent of annual giving occurred in the month of December.
Charity Navigator, an online guide to intelligent giving, also reported an estimated $373 billion was given to charitable causes in 2015, demonstrating another record-breaking year. Donations are going to a wide range of causes, from education, human services, environmental and animal-focused charities to the arts, culture and humanities and more. Religious groups receive the most donations of all causes.
The concept of philanthropy is rising as donations increase annually. With thousands of charities and a vast variety of causes to choose from, giving can feel a little overwhelming. Where do you want your money to go? What do you want your money to impact? How much should you give? As technology advances and donating is as easy as entering your credit card information online or through an app, anyone can give in a blink of an eye.
How can you make sure the charity you want to give to is legitimate? How can you ensure that your hard-earned money is going to the right place and in the correct hands? How do you know your dollars are being used effectively? How do you know you aren’t actually paying for someone’s vacation?
Luckily, there are online resources that are helping philanthropists like you by acting as charity watchdogs to make sure what you are giving is actually impacting the cause you care about.
CharityNavigator.org is an amazing website that takes the act of giving seriously. The website includes articles that highlight Top Ten Lists, Hot Topics, Tips for Donors and Methodology. These articles cover highly specific topics such as “Should You Buy that Charity-Affiliated Product?” “Guide to Giving in the Workplace,” and “Questions To Ask Charities Before Giving.”
Another great resource to delve into as you are determining which charity to support is CharityWatch.org. It was founded more than 20 years ago as the American Institute of Philanthropy. Charity Watch stringently analyzes how efficiently a charity will use your donation to fund the programs you want to support; the organization has a long history of exposing nonprofit abuses and advocates for your interests as a donor.
CharityWatch also rates charities using the familiar A to F system; ratings are determined by analysis of financial statements, tax forms, state filings and other documents to determine how efficiently a charity uses its donations. Its comparisons calculate how much a charity spends to obtain its contributions, which is an indicator of how much is left for programs. Members can access detailed rating information whereas non-members can only see detailed information for the top-rated charities. They also provide articles covering a range of topics that inform and raise awareness in the world of philanthropy.
Give.org makes searching easy; type in the charity of your choice and you can access a plethora of information regarding that specific charity. Its charity reports are easy to navigate with tabs that include reports, programs, governance and staff, fund raising, tax status and financial reports. The financial reports break down sources of funds and also where the money is going. There is a convenient sharing option available as well as the ability to print the reports. Their News & Updates section is updated frequently and includes a series called Wise Giving Wednesday that covers relevant current events.
Other websites that act as watchdogs include givewell.org, which offers visitors the opportunity to stay updated on the site’s research discussion and recommendations. Guidestar.org provides access to more than 1.8 million IRS-recognized nonprofits; it is a neutral 501(c)3 public charity that collects, organizes and presents data at no cost to its users.
The holiday season is busy and bustling with parties and celebrations. It’s easy to do your part as a philanthropist by going online and submitting a donation in seconds without thinking twice about where it could be going and what it could be used for. These online resources are available to help ensure your gift of philanthropy is going somewhere real and is making a true impact to the cause you care most about. ■
Sources: treasury.gov, secretservice.gov, federalreserve.gov, consumerreports.org and time.com.