This time of year, and frankly all year long if you’ve donated anything to any charity ever, you’re likely bombarded with requests for donations. You might be tempted to spread your money around to several different charities. It’s a nice thought, but it’s not the best way to make the most of your donations, or a benefit to the charities.

Choose Your Charities Carefully
One year I received an inheritance after my aunt died of breast cancer. I sent a large check to a breast cancer charity, then decided to give $50 a month to charity. I chose 12 charities. Then I realized that each of those charities had put me on their list and were now sending me address labels and other goodies to try to get me to give more. They then sold my name to more charities who sent me stuff. By the time I moved out of my house, I had over 1,000 address labels sitting on a shelf. The charities had probably spent far more than my initial donation trying to get me to give more.

So, rather than donating to multiple charities, get together with your family and make a list of the causes that are truly important to you. Decide how much you’ll give, and then narrow your list down to 2-3 charities. Divide the money between them, then make a commitment to keep giving year-after-year so the charity doesn’t needlessly pursue you.

Making One-Time Donations
That’s not to say that you can’t give one-time donations. I‘ve given one-time donations to two friends doing different walks-for-the-cure. I donated online, specified that it was for the walk, and checked the box instructing them not to contact me. They got their money, and they didn’t waste money asking me for more.

My husband and I also usually give one-time donations when major natural disasters strike. Once again, we donate online and mark the box asking not to be contacted again (or uncheck the box, depending on the charity.)

If you’re making a one-time donation outside of a disaster or fundraising walk, include a note with your donation asking that you NOT be put on their list and that your name NOT be sold. If you receive solicitations again, call them and ask to be removed. It sounds heartless, but charities would rather not waste money going after donations they won’t get.

Investigating Charities
Chances are you know of several reputable charities. If you’re familiar with them, you don’t need to spend a lot of time researching them. However, you have to careful when adding new charities to your list or when making a donation after a natural disaster because scammers abound, and some legitimate charities aren’t actually that good at spending their donations.

Before you give one penny, visit the charity’s website. Don’t give if it looks cheap or has misspellings. However, a flashy website isn’t a sign of honesty. Your next step is to visit one of the charity vetting sites: Charity Navigator, Guidestar, Charity Guide, the American Institute of Philanthropy, or the Better Business Bureau. Not all charities will be listed with any one site, so you also have trust your gut somewhat. For disaster relief, stick with the well-known charities.

Donate Throughout the Year
Many people give at Christmas, but you should consider spacing out your donations throughout the year. That not only helps you plan your budget, but gives the charities a boost during their low season.

Take Advantage of Matching Funds
Matching funds are corporate donations triggered by personal donations. You can contribute matching funds in a couple ways:

Pledge Drives: Some charities hold pledge drives. Corporations will agree to sponsor a certain period or match a set dollar amount. If you give during this time, your donation will be matched dollar-for-dollar. If the charity doesn’t get enough during the period, they won’t get the full amount. So watch for these and donate during the matching period to make sure they get the full match.

Paycheck Matches: Some large corporations allow employees to donate to charity through payroll deductions. They may also match the employee’s donation dollar-for-dollar or 50%. If your company offers such a program, take advantage of it. It’s a great way to give your charity a little boost without any extra effort on your part once the donation is set up.

When you’re bombarded by requests for charity, you might feel heartless ignoring some of the requests, but it really is best to stick to a few charities and make the most of your donations.

Comments

4 Responses to “How to Maximize Your Charitable Donations”

  1. Debbie M on December 14th, 2009 5:59 pm

    I give through http://www.justgive.org. They do take 3% off the top to cover their costs, but it’s a lot less than my employer was taking to do the same thing. You can give anonymously so that the companies never even get your name so they can’t waste money begging you.

    They are little more annoying than when I first started with them, pre-checking a box suggesting an additional donation for JustGive, but I just keep unchecking that and at the end they say that 3% is taken to pay their costs.

    I love, love, love not getting any crap in the mail (even from JustGive). One place I did donate to directly because they had a donor doubling all contributions, but then they sure spent a lot of money sending me crap. I’m never doing that again.

  2. Aryn on December 14th, 2009 6:39 pm

    Great tip, Debbie. I’ll have to check them out for future contributions!

  3. Cars4Charities on December 19th, 2009 4:48 pm

    You will get a tax deduction of at least $500 when you donate a car to charity. You can select from hundreds of respected charities to donate car to at Cars4Charities. The car donation process is simple, free and can be done entirely online at http://www.cars4charities.org/ You can even donate your car if it doesn’t run.

  4. Brenda Pike on January 6th, 2010 11:35 am

    Peter Singer gives some good advice in his book The Life You Can Save. I recently followed it to bump my charitable contributions to 5%. I’m giving my money to charities in the developing world and my time to local ones. That feels like a nice balance. I also researched the actual effectiveness of charities through Givewell.org and the Jamal Poverty Action Lab at MIT, to make sure my money goes as far as possible. It’s nice to see some scientific thinking brought to bear on this topic.

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