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5 Steps For Informed Giving

   Dec 13, 2021

Article Updated 12/13/2021

A message from CharityWatch Executive Director, Laurie Styron

Giving Tuesday served as a reminder to balance our individual needs with the needs of the people and causes that most need our help. But in reality, every day is a good day to turn our thoughts and words into actions by identifying efficient and effective charities to support and making donations. While our giving is often driven by a desire for connection to humanity, a sense a duty to help others by sharing our resources, a feeling of gratitude for our good fortune relative to so many others, or a desire to make a positive impact on the world around us, in order for our donations to accomplish what we most want, we need to be thoughtful about how we give. 

While there is no perfect formula for how any individual person should make their donating decisions, I would like to offer the following as a guide for your consideration. People often procrastinate in making donations, not because they don't care, but because they don't know how to start. I hope you find this brief roadmap to giving helpful today and throughout this holiday season as you consider which charities to support. 

Step 1: What Causes Do You Care Most About? 

You are only one person. You can't fix the entire world by yourself. Even the very fortunate among us have limited resources. Consider which causes are most important to you. Doing so will make you a more proactive giver. Instead of waiting to be asked and making impulsive donating decisions, your mindfulness about what you care about will drive you to be more thoughtful about how you donate, and even more generous. 

Step 2: What Can You Afford?

What we can and cannot afford is not always a logical calculation. Our perceptions in this regard may be shaped by our sense of hope for the future, feelings of guilt, emotional anxiety in the face of evocative imagery or sad stories about people or animals who need our help, and any number of other factors that are more about how we are feeling than they are about the cold, hard facts of our respective financial positions. 

Charities often try to quantify what they can accomplish with a specific donation amount that helps to put that dollar figure into perspective, such as being able to feed a child for the same cost as one cup of coffee per day. These quantifiers help us to think about our individual resources and spending habits in a way that allows us to incorporate giving back within the context of what we can afford. It also helps us to reflect on the philosophical considerations of what we are willing and able to give up in order to support the causes we care about. 

Only you can decide what you can afford. It's ok for a charity to ask you to reflect on this question, but it's not ok for them to bully you into making donations that are not in your budget. Saying no to some charities is what allows you to say yes to others. You are not a bad person for setting boundaries and maintaining control over your budgeting decisions. 

Step 3: Identify Efficient Charities Working in the Causes Important to You.

Whether you care about animal welfare, injured veterans, cancer research, climate change, homelessness, food insecurity, social justice, or other causes, what all these causes have in common is that there are good charities and bad charities working in each of these cause areas. "Good" and "bad" for purposes of this discussion are defined as charities that will use your donations efficiently and effectively, and charities that will not, respectively. 

If you know what causes you care about but aren't sure which charities will use your donations the way you intend, a good starting point is CharityWatch's List of Top-Rated Charities, which is organized by cause. (This list is periodically refined and expanded).

Step 4: What Programs Do You Care About?

In steps 1 - 3 you thought about what causes you care about, how much you can afford to donate, and found a list of efficient charities working in those causes. Chances are you still need a way to help you whittle down this list before making your final charity selections and initiating your donations. To do this, consider what types of charitable programs you want to fund. 

For example, a veterans charity may be operating efficiently, but its programs are not in line with what you most want to support. One veterans charity might focus primarily on educating the public about the needs of veterans. Another might have good programs, but these duplicate the efforts of the Veterans Administration, which is already funded by our tax dollars. A different veterans charity may offer emergency rent, utility, and medical bill assistance, while another may conduct a program to help veterans establish permanent housing. 

View the mission of each charity on CharityWatch's Top-Rated List by clicking on the name of the charity and navigating to its profile page. Be sure to also check out the notes compiled by CharityWatch's analysts during their evaluations, as well as any articles published by CharityWatch and other journalists. Each profile page also includes data on a charity's governance, transparency, executive pay, and other useful information. If you still need more information, simply navigate to the charity's website using the link provided. 

Step 5: Turn Your Intentions Into Actions.

The important final step is to turn your thoughts and words into actions by making donations. You've done your due diligence in researching charities. Now you are ready to give thoughtfully. 


CharityWatch's investigative work and in-depth financial analysis of charity audited financial statements, tax filings, fundraising contracts, legal filings, and other data used in our evaluations of charities is funded by donations from the general public. We hope you will consider supporting us by making a donation today. We also welcome support from foundation and corporate donors.