A Guide To Giving


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In times of conflict and sudden crises, charitable giving becomes central to disaster relief and resource allocation. From medical aid, to infrastructure, to covering building, relocation, and educational costs, there is no doubt that charitable organisations empower every day people to create a better tomorrow for victims of circumstance worldwide. There is an especial focus on charitable giving during winter months, when a combination of holiday spirit and the fact that half the world is being plunged into a deep freeze promote the giving spirit. From UNICEF's Winter Appeal, to medical and refugee relief funds peppering the news, it is a fact that 12% of giving happens on the last three days of the year, no matter what else has happened during the rest of it.

However, in this rush to give, donors are often left with the conundrum: who to give to? With thousands of charitable organisations, how do donors determine which charity is most likely to use their contribution to directly aid those in need, and how can they be sure their donation is funneled into the exact channel they prefer? And after Red Cross revelation and Salvation Army scandal, it's more vital than ever to make sure that donors are armed with exacting information regarding their charitable giving. The industry, which rakes in over $350 billion in the USA alone from foundations, corporations, bequests and individuals, can best direct funds towards those who need it if contributors conduct a few simple vetting checks.

How To Be Sure Your Donation Is Handled Correctly

1. Is the charity tax-exempt? A good way to spot a fake or ill-run charity is to see if it fails to be tax exempt. Any charity that isn't exempt under United States Internal Revenue Code section 501(c) (3), or recognised by HMRC in the United Kingdom, may be false and misuse funds.

2. How does the charity pay its staff? Are staffers a majority of volunteers, or are they paid? While larger charities may have a greater need to funnel donations into upkeep, infrastructure, and staff salaries, a surefire way to check for misuse of funds is to look at the CEO's salary. Less than 25% of donations should be going to administrative fees: you can request a charity's US 990 Forms to see that funds are properly used, and CEOs are not the main beneficiary. Who could forget this viral table from 2005, after all?

3. Know what your charity is about. Some charities have vague or misleading names. Being sure your charity shares your goals and is upfront about the challenges they are approaching and solving is of utmost importance. While you may want to invest in the education of children, for example, do you prefer a charity that does so through religious or secular channels, that pays for textbooks or school uniforms? Being in the know about a charity's means and methods is the best way to be sure your contribution supports your world view.

4. Let them know why you're donating. Many charities will hang on to contributions, and will use funds at their disposal in the way they see fit. However, if you'd like your donation to go towards something specific; a current crises, or directly to aid or supplies; let the charity know. By designating your contribution (in writing along with a check, or by leaving a note on an online giving portal) you ensure that your donation will go directly towards whatever you wished to fund.

5. Avoid "crises charities". While certainly not always the case, new charities that pop up suddenly around a disaster may either be designed to take advantage of people's increased willingness to donate, or, their good intentions may not yet be paired with proper infrastructure to solve the problem at hand. Established charities will already have the funds to get on the ground during a crises, and contributions are more likely to go towards aid than administration. 

6. Does the charity evaluate and grow? As the world changes, charities need to keep up. Technology and infrastructure, not to mention politics and public opinion, are constantly changing. Charities that have third-party reports published on their growth, and who take donor suggestions and opinions seriously in deciding how to build and grow, are more likely to tackle future disasters in a judicious manner.

7. Be aware of what sectors are thriving versus which are struggling. Educational and Medical charities are often receive the most funding: however, even within those sectors, certain branches suffer. If you plan to donate to medical research, do you want the funds to go towards cancer or ALS? And if you choose cancer, what type of cancer?  Do you want the funds to go towards research, or towards covering medical costs for victims? Children's cancer research receives more donations than breast and prostate cancer research, which receive more contributions than cancer care charities in the UK. International NGOs and Arts & Culture charities see slightly less focus than the health and education categories.

Charities That Are Creating An Impact

So, which charities are doing an admirable job? According to United States-bound Charity Navigator, here are some of the charities very much worth looking into.

Top-Rated Charities: Those with consistent top marks for proper use of funds and transparency include: Books For Africa, Weld Food Bank, Direct Relief, and Orphan Grain Train.

Most Popular With Donors: Charities with the highest number of donors and sweeping funds to dictate towards relief efforts include: Doctors Without Borders, The Red Cross, The Nature Conservatory, The World Wildlife Fund, and UNICEF.

Biggest Charities: Those charities with significant and vital infrastructure, with annual budgets requiring over $500 Million to run include: The Red Cross, Feeding America, Smithsonian Institute, City of Hope, and St. Jude's.

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