Giving Tuesday: How to donate to a charity with purpose and intention

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Giving Tuesday is this week. It’s a day when charities ask us to take a break from our holiday shopping and open our wallets to worthy causes.

If you’re wondering which organizations to support or how much money to donate, Kevin Scally of Charity Navigator has some advice to help you make the right decisions. His group evaluates the effectiveness of over 200,000 nonprofit organizations.

In general, he says, donating to a charity is a lot like voting for an issue you believe in — except “you’re voting where you’re putting your money.”

And those efforts should be celebrated. “If you’re [giving] to causes that ultimately are working to bolster society, it’s a good thing,” adds Scally.

Here are five tips to consider when donating.

Make a list of the issues you care about

Get a pen and paper and “take inventory of [the causes that] matter to you,” your family, your local community “and the greater global community,” says Scally. This exercise can help you narrow down the list of issues you care about and make your philanthropy more strategic.

If you’re not sure about what to jot down, think about challenges you’d like to help overcome. Maybe you had “a family member that was afflicted by a chronic illness,” he says. Is there some way to support them? Or look at “the political and social events that are happening. How do you want to give back? In what specific way?”

Use your household budget to decide how much to give

Charities will often make suggestions for individual donations, for example, $20 a month or a one-time offer of $150.

But Scally recommends a more intentional approach: come up with an amount based on your household budget. “Sit down with your family and map out what you can afford to give. You certainly want to take care of yourself and pay your rent and your groceries,” he says.

You can also donate a specific percentage of your annual income to charity, says Scally. Some giving movements like One for the World suggests one percent — big enough to make an impact, small enough not to notice in your budget — while others like Giving What We Can suggests a more generous amount: 10 percent.

If you want to give more, go for it, says Scally. “Some folks I’ve spoken to have given up to 20 percent” of their annual income.

Donate to a mix of charities

“When you support a cause, you may want to give to both a small, local organization and a large, national or international organization,” says Scally. There are benefits to each.

Large global charities, for example, often have more staff, more aid, more resources and more logistical knowledge from experienced humanitarian workers who know how to mobilize on a massive scale during emergencies, said Paul Spiegel, director of the Center for Humanitarian Health at Johns Hopkins University in a 2017 interview with NPR. They also know how to navigate the often complex financial requirements and paperwork needed to obtain millions of dollars in emergency funding.

Smaller, local charity groups also have their strengths. “The people behind local nonprofits often live and work [where] they serve,” says Victoria Vrana, CEO of GlobalGiving, a crowdfunding platform for grassroots charitable projects. For that reason, “they are able to deliver long-term solutions that are tailor-made [to] the needs of their communities.”

Beware of charity scammers

Make sure your money is going to the people who you’re trying to help. “Scams are on the rise,” warns Scally.

According to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, natural disasters, for example, can create opportunities for fraud. Scammers pose as representatives of charities seeking donations for disaster relief via phone call, texts, emails, letters and even people going door to door. To protect yourself, the FCC suggests donating to trusted, well-known charities and taking extra steps to verify if a charity is legitimate.

Be wary of any fundraising schemes that seem urgent or predatory,” says Scally. “Anything that feels high pressure or unsolicited is definitely worth taking a second look at.”

And don’t forget: your money isn’t the only way to support causes you care about. “Volunteering is a great way to give back,” he adds. It allows you to create a personal relationship with an organization and its work. “So if you can make that a part of your routine, it’s a beautiful thing to do.”

The audio was produced by Sylvie Douglis. The digital story was written by Clare Marie Schneider and edited by Malaka Gharib. The visual producer is Kaz Fantone.

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