5 Ways to decide which charities to support

How to decide which issues to focus on and the best ways to give (plus our favorite charities to support)
By Avital Norman Nathman  Published on 12/19/2017 at 7:30 AM EDT

Winter holidays have a way of inspiring many to give back. In fact, according to Network for Good, a web-based giving service, one-third of the entire year’s online donations are made in December. But how to decide what issues to focus on, which charities to donate to, and what are the best ways to give?

Choose organizations that help ideals that you support

While you will certainly want to use your head to help choose an organization to support, start by looking into your heart first. What causes or movements speak to your soul? Who do you want to help the most? Are you an absolute animal lover? Look into charities that work with them. Perhaps your passions are the environment, politics, or the health and safety of children. There are many worthy causes out there, and while you may want to give to all of them, take a moment to identify one or two. Need inspiration?  Charity Navigator — “your guide to intelligent giving,” has a page devoted to “Hot Topics,” which includes vetted organizations that deal with natural disasters and various societal concerns.

There is no one right way to give. You may feel inspired to spread your money around to various charities, and that is okay! Or, you may prefer to put all of your allotted charity funds into one organization. If you’re new at this, you may want to choose a few different organizations. Over time, you can whittle down the list and focus on one fund or topic if you choose.

Decide where you want your impact felt

Once you have an idea of the “who,” you need to figure out the “where.” Do you want your donation to go toward an organization that helps on the local level — perhaps the neighborhood food bank? Or, are you more interested in making a national or even global impact?

Local organizations work directly in the community and have a nuanced perspective of those needs,” says Larry Lieberman, Charity Navigator’s Chief Operating Officer. “They are also usually working to respond to the issues that are right in your backyard. National and international organizations provide services at a large scale, with an established infrastructure and coordinated teams to support those who need it most. At the end of the day, if it’s a highly-rated charity and you’ve done your research, then you know it’s reliable and can donate to what you feel is right.

Decide what you will donate

Most people donate money — and to be honest, that is what most organizations actually prefer, as you can make the biggest impact that way. However, not everyone can afford to. For those who aren’t able to set aside some funds, why not consider donating your time? Look into charities that need volunteers to get things done. You’ll still be making an impact and a difference, without hurting your ability to get your own bills paid on time! Time and money an issue? Look around for organizations that will take gently used clothes or household items. Charity Navigator provides a guide for non-cash donations to ensure that your donation will be both useful and make a difference.  

Do your research

Make a list of the charities that meet your requirements and then do a little research. Charity Navigator’s Lieberman says that folks should examine the charity’s finances, as well as checking the charity’s accountability and transparency. Lieberman says that Charity Navigator currently evaluates over 9,000 charities with 24 separate metrics in two primary categories: Financial Health and Accountability & Transparency. According to Lieberman, “These metrics help donors understand both how much of their money goes to programs, administrative, and fundraising. Our metrics also help to highlight the work that the charities do to effectively communicate their operations with donors like a donor privacy policy, the board members listed on their website, if full staff is listed.”

Charity Navigator has a Top 10 page which includes various ranked lists (good and bad!) to help you make your decision. Other sites that help you review your options include GiveWell and Charity Watch. Also, keep an eye out for scams. The IRS offers tips on avoiding fake charities, as does Charity Navigator.  

Follow up for future donation decisions

Lieberman tells us that it’s important to follow up with your donation to ensure that it made the impact you were hoping for. “Donors should also discuss results and impact with the charities they are hoping to donate to understand the organization’s accomplishments, goals, and challenges,” he says. “Donors should consider giving an unrestricted donation, and then follow up on their donation in six months to get a progress report on how their donation was used.”



Need some inspiration? Here are just a few of the places Grok staffers will be giving to this year:

Mayim Bialik, GrokNation Founder: “This year I am lending my resources and love to Holistic Moms Network which was the only ‘mom group’ I found that spoke to my cloth diapering/naturopathic/homemade everything/babywearing/breastfeeding needs as a new mom. They are undergoing leadership shifts and I am hoping to help them get their resources to more moms and dads who don’t feel they fit in in ‘traditional’ parenting groups.”

Noey Jacobson, GrokUniverse COO: “Once a month I have a calendar reminder for my wife and I to give to a new charity that speaks to us. A lot of times it just ends up being something in the news that strikes a chord. A good example is Hurricane Harvey Relief. I’m from Houston, and the devastation hit close to home (literally). We gave to a few causes doing good work on the ground in the aftermath of Harvey, both general (United Way) and more specific to my own childhood community (Jewish Federation).”

Avital Norman Nathman, GrokNation Editor: “A big passion of mine is maternal and reproductive healthcare. I want everyone to have access to family planning and contraception so they can decide when it’s the right time to have a baby. And, I want them to have access to quality, affordable healthcare to ensure safe and healthy pregnancies and deliveries. One organization I support that helps with this on a global level is Every Mother Counts, started by Christy Turlington Burns. The work the organization funds helps to reduce maternal and infant mortality rates and make pregnancy and birth safer for everyone.”

Esther Kustanowitz, GrokNation Editor:It’s always hard for me to select one cause that speaks to me – usually my end-of-year giving reflects the year in the rearview mirror…the moments in which I or other people felt helpless, and which made me want to do something, even if it was small. And so that’s how I give, to some smaller and some larger causes, but in smaller amounts. I often wait until the last few weeks of the year because there are usually matching gifts initiatives – that usually bumps up my gift a few dollars if I know it will be matched by someone who can afford to give more. I have many friends who run nonprofits, so sometimes I support them, like my cousin who runs Matan, which provides training and consultations and educates Jewish leaders, educators and communities, empowering them to create learning environments supportive of children with special needs. Or my friend Asher, who’s poured his heart and soul into JQ International, an organization that provides a safe space for LGBTQ Jews to explore their gay and Jewish identities. This year, I’m also giving to Women Against Gun Violence — a friend of mine is very active there, and after the year of gun-related deaths we’ve had, it is clear that something needs to change. I sometimes donate to my “spiritual community,” IKAR; to KPCC; to NAMI and to Planned Parenthood, as a way of contributing to health services for those who can afford less than I can… and there will be others, especially in a year of natural disasters like we’ve had. I wish I had more to give this year – and perhaps in the future, I will…

Mia Taylor, GrokNation Social Media Manager: “I donate supplies and time to my mom’s non-profit called Getting Out by Going In. It helps rehabilitate incarcerated folks to make sure they’re productive, and a positive influence in society upon their release. The programs Getting Out by Going In runs have a 2% recidivism rate and the government has just awarded them awesome funding because of its success, which is exciting!”


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