Many charities receive 40% of their annual contributions in the last few weeks of the year.
So if you’re planning on giving this season, your donation is definitely needed. But how much should you give? And to which organizations should you donate?
These questions are important—especially if you want your aid dollars to make an impact. Here are five simple steps to maximizing your year-end giving.
1. Study Your Budget.
Before you start making donations, sit down with your spouse and divvy up your Christmas fund. You know, that money you’ve been saving all year for presents, parties, travel and giving? Assign a dollar amount to each item on the list: Grandma gets $50, gas money will be $150, charitable gifts can have $500, and so on. Our EveryDollar budget tool can help make this easy for you.
Once you know exactly how much you can spend on helping others, then you can figure out who gets what. And don’t feel bad if it’s not much. When properly focused, a little goodwill can go a long way.
2. Research Before You Give.
Only 35% of Americans research charitable organizations before forking over hundreds or thousands of dollars to them, according to a 2010 Hope Consulting study. And nearly 80% of us are brand-loyal to a particular nonprofit—meaning we don’t always check to see if another charity is doing a better job.
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Thanks to the Internet, though, it’s easier than ever to compare nonprofits. So take a few minutes to find out which charities earn top marks for efficiency, accountability and transparency. You’ll make a bigger splash with high-impact charities.
3. Narrow Your Giving.
After you’ve done your research, begin to narrow down your choices. If you already know you want to focus on cancer research, that’s perfectly fine. But don’t get excited and give to 20 different organizations. Pick charities that will use your money wisely—even if they aren’t the biggest or the most well-known.
If your budget is tight, you can usually do the most good by focusing your spending on one or two amazing nonprofits. When you concentrate your giving, you magnify your reach.
4. Start a Small-Bills Envelope.
Sometimes it’s not the big gifts we forget, but the small ones—like the Salvation Army bell ringers or the change jar at your local grocery store. But what if you don’t have any spare change on you? Is it okay to use cash from your food or entertainment envelopes?
Instead of stealing from your budget to help others, be proactive and set aside a small amount from your Christmas budget for loose-change gifts. Cash this money out in one-dollar bills and fill up a special “small gifts” envelope. Then you can bless all the bell ringers your budget allows—no coins required.
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5. Give Without the Guilt.
Way to go. You’ve done a great job focusing your spending on a few awesome charities. But your boss just announced a big toy drive, and you want to help. Listen, you can’t give to everyone. After you donate to a great charity or two, don’t feel guilty about turning down any further requests.
Just politely explain that you’ve met your giving limit, but you’d be happy to help in some other way, like shopping for toys or wrapping presents. That way, you’re still making an impact, but you’re also staying on budget.
Being a cheerful giver doesn’t mean you’re obligated to give to everyone who asks. With a few budgeting boundaries and some smart research, your money can accomplish even more this season.
It’s important to give with your heart, but be sure to use your head too.