How to Choose Which Charity to Support

The holiday season often has people thinking about charity, and the best way to reach out to those who need a helping hand. Whether you have $10 or $10,000 to give out to charitable organizations this year, you want to make sure those dollars go to the right place — and we’re here to help.

We can’t tell you which organization to donate to — or all your money would be going to my favorite charity this year — but we can help you make a smart choice about where to send money or goods.

What Do You Care About?

It sounds like a silly question, but sit down and think about this: What do you care about? What are causes you’re feeling passionate about this year, and why? It’s okay to narrow down your list, or to focus on just one effort this year.

For example, maybe you’re really concerned about wrongful convictions. You could donate to groups that work on appeals for prisoners, help with the transition back to society for recently released inmates, assist prisoners’ families, advocate for changes in the legal system or get involved in other aspects of this criminal justice issue.

Can You Match It?

If you’re employed by a large company, they may offer charity matching. Contact them to find out whether they do and if there are limitations — like a requirement that you donate to a group on an approved list, or a matching limit. This is a great way to double — or more, sometimes — your money.

Some charities also work with other groups to sponsor matching programs, so it’s worth keeping a list of charities you like and checking in to see if they have any matching challenges going on. For instance, maybe your local humane society is working with an anonymous donor who will match all contributions, up to $50,000.

Cash Versus In-Kind Donations

Many charities prefer cash, because it’s highly flexible and doesn’t come with the need for processing and storage. If possible, you should contribute cash donations.

In some cases, charities may explicitly solicit in-kind donations of goods or services. Pay attention to what they need, and try to match your donation to the need. For instance, domestic violence shelters often need menstrual supplies and diapers, but they want them in unopened packaging.

Consider Going Local

Your donation can make a profound difference on a local level. Chances are that your community has homeless people, needy animals, kids with tough home lives, environmental issues and many other problems that hardworking members of your community are trying to work on — all on a shoestring budget.

Especially if your community has recently experienced tragedy or disaster, keeping money in the area can build strength. Maybe you were in a region affected by extreme weather, a mass shooting or a building collapse — your contributions to local charitable funds for victims will be incredibly valuable!

By giving locally, you can promote social and economic opportunity where you live. Local charities often get overlooked during the holidays, or at times when lots of national fundraising drives are occurring. If there’s an issue you care about on a larger level, there may be a local charity working on it.

Vetting Big Charities

But if you don’t want to give locally, or can’t identify a charity that meshes with your interests and concerns, go bigger! You probably know some heavy-hitters in your field of interest and you could start there. But consider looking up smaller, lesser-known group working on issues with much smaller budgets. Your support could be incredibly helpful.

When researching any charity, you have a right to see their annual report and tax records, if they’re a registered nonprofit. You should look to see how much money they bring in and how it’s spent. Charity rating organizations like Charity Navigator and Guidestar can also help with this task.

Finally, try searching for the charity’s name and “controversy” to see what comes up. Your search may provide information about problems at the charity, or a historic issue that the charity responded to. This could help you decide whether you’d like to contribute to their coffers.

Bonus: Think About Becoming a Supporting Member

A one-time donation is always appreciated, but people who sign up as supporting members are incredibly valuable. Charities need a steady, predictable flow of funds to do their best work. Knowing that they can count on you every month or quarter helps an organization focus more on improving the world — and less on scrambling for money. If you have $100 to donate, consider pushing it and giving $10 monthly for a year; it feels like less, but it can be stabilizing in the long term.

Photo Credit: State Farm/Flickr


Sophie A
Sarah A3 months ago


Paula A
Patricia A6 months ago

thank you

Ingrid A
Past Member 6 months ago

thanks for sharing

HEIKKI R8 months ago

thank you

Peggy B
Peggy B8 months ago


Marie W
Marie W10 months ago

Thank you for the post.

Chad A
Chad Andersonabout a year ago

Thank you.

Mike R
Mike Rabout a year ago


Sarah Hill
Sarah Hillabout a year ago

We give to CBN, they have many ways and directions they use your money both at home and abroad with very little waste and abuse. We also give to John Hagees' CUFI, which supports Israel. Both are very good charities to begin with. We donate goods to both Goodwill and Habitat for Humanity's ReStore. ReStore will take left over and old paint to recycle.

Angela K
Angela Kabout a year ago