Donating to charity is a wonderful gesture. Thinking beyond yourself to others in need is a key part of empathy. Many people will make their year-end donations in the next few weeks. This year, put a little more thought into it. I’m not trying to discourage you from giving, but do you know how your favorite charity spends your money? Have you done any research on how it operates? When I donate to the Red Cross, I want my money to go to families whose houses have burned down, or feed people displaced by floods. I don’t want to pay for their mass mailings or CEO’s salary. Which is not to say those things aren’t important, but some nonprofits do a better job than others at keeping their overhead low.
Charity Navigator is an excellent resource for research on charities. It breaks down each nonprofit’s expenses by how much it spends on administration, fundraising and programs. It also shares how much the CEOs make. Before you make your donations this year, if you haven’t already, read Charity Navigator’s 6 Questions to Ask Charities Before Donating and Top 10 Best Practices of Savvy Donors.
For example, the March of Dimes is dedicating to improving the health of babies–who wouldn’t think that’s a good cause? But a closer look shows much of the group’s expenses go toward administrative and fundraising costs rather than program costs.
I know times are tough, and many people don’t have much to spare. That’s OK. In this case, every little bit really does help. Even if you can’t do anything else, save your spare change to put in a Salvation Army bucket. If you have no extra money, volunteer at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen. The donation of your time is every bit as valuable as a monetary donation. As the snow starts to fly, dig around your closets to see if you have any warm winter clothes you could give away. And remember, even if you don’t have very much, someone out there has even less. Let’s do as much as we can this holiday season to make sure our friends and neighbors have food and shelter.