Every year as the holidays approach, my mailbox is stuffed with solicitations from dozens of charities. So many charities, and they all sound so worthy! If only I were a bazillionaire, I could give to them all. But I'm not, so I have to be picky.
Fortunately I have a little help. There are rating systems that give you a snapshot of how charities use their money so you know exactly how it's being used. And I have a few other guidelines I follow.
1. Find out how the charity rates. Charity Navigator is probably the best-known charity ratings service. Last year they added an accountability and transparency dimension to their ratings. Their website includes loads of advice for donors.
2. But keep an open mind about what those ratings mean. Here's why simple ratings systems can be problematic, though. Doesn't mean they aren't still useful, just that the picture is always more complicated than that.
3. Pick one or two categories to focus on. As much as I'd love to help a whole variety of causes, I've narrowed my giving to just two types: Organizations that address hunger and that help mothers. And I could probably stand to narrow that a bit more. But it helps to remind myself that every donation can have a ripple effect in a community. Helping mothers helps our children, too, for example.
4. Think local. There are lots of smaller, local organizations that are doing great work in your community. I like to look for charities that are founded by people from within the community by people who understand its needs best, and who are coming up with creative solutions.
How do you decide which organizations to donate to?