Donating to Top Charities

Whether it’s purely altruistic or want of a tax deduction, donating to charity comes with its own complexities. The most obvious is choosing where to put your money. Local shelters, libraries, multinational organizations—there are at least a dozen in every developed city. How do you know where your money will go farthest?

The top charities are often the most recognizable. The Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, and the Red Cross are popular examples. But there are smaller ones that may only be known in your city, but are just as meaningful. Large charities reach a greater number of people, and working for them may open up more opportunities to help. It also ensures that your money will go where it’s needed the most. If you want to see immediate change, however, you’ll want to go with a smaller outfit, such as a soup kitchen or tutoring service.

The key is to choose a cause you feel strongly about. Find your general area of interest. Are you particularly attracted to children or animals, or do you feel strongly about protecting the environment? This will narrow down your options and help you focus your money and efforts better. It’s a good feeling knowing that you’ve gone beyond caring and taken concrete action.

You’ll also need to weed out the bad charities. It’s a pretty strong term—charity is charity, after all—but some are more efficient than others. You want to donate to a group that puts most or all of your money into the cause. However, the large majority of charities take some of their overhead costs from donations as well. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it might pay to look into the matter.

In the U.S., charity watchdogs such as GuideStar and the American Institute of Philanthropy monitor charity activities and make sure they do their job. According to the AIP, the top charities allocate no more than 15% of donations to administrative, marketing, and fundraising efforts. Those that put 40% or more into these departments aren’t highly ranked. If you’re concerned about your donations not being tax-deductible, check out Publication 78, a federal document listing all the charities whose donations will earn you a tax cut.

Methods of donation are also worth looking into. While most websites accept donations by credit card, remember that card issuers often take a small percentage from the transaction. Checks and money orders are usually the best way to go, although some groups would rather pay the credit card fee and get their funds immediately. Each organization has its own needs, so it’s best to talk to them personally and learn how you can help.

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