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What Charity Should I Donate to?

August 11th, 2016

Giving back to your community is a no-brainer when you have the resources to help make the world a better place. But with the wealth of causes — and sometimes a staggering array of options that serve the same cause — how can you choose a charity to donate to? Should you focus on underfunded charities, or popular charities that are well-established? Quintessentially People is here to help.

Underfunded Charities

Chances are you won’t have to look far to find an underfunded charity. Many times, the neediest organizations operate right in your own backyard. You may be able to make a meaningful impact by contributing to a local library, school or hospital.

Interested in an international organization? Forbes recommends Against Malaria Foundation, GiveDirectly and Schistosomiasis Control Initiative for their effectiveness, transparency and desperate need for funding. GiveWell analyzed numerous charities by these criteria and discovered that giving to organizations serving developing nations often provide the best bang for the buck.

Popular Charities

If you prefer to give to a well-established organization, CharityWatch can help. CharityWatch’s top rated organizations “spend 75% or more of their budgets on programs, spend $25 or less to raise $100 in public support, do not hold excessive assets in reserve, have met Charity Watch’s governance benchmarks, and receive ‘open-book’ status for disclosure.” In short, some famous organizations pass the smell test.

Some of the popular charities to donate to include the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, American Humane Association, Wildlife Conservation Society, National Federation of the Blind, LiveStrong Foundation, Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, Save the Children, Innocence Project, Partnership for Drug-Free Kids and Habitat for Humanity, among many others.

Making a Decision

You wouldn’t make an investment without doing research, and nor should you give money or time to an unworthy organization. Before you pick a name out of a hat and grab your checkbook, you’ll want to do some research. Make a list of causes that mean something to you — for example, disadvantaged children, medical research, education, the environment or something else entirely. Then, narrow down your choices and verify they are real nonprofits by checking with

Once you’ve selected a few legitimate organizations, it’s time to further refine your choices. Ask yourself:

  • How much does the charity spend on overhead? You’ll want to make sure you contribute to a legitimate organization with limited overhead, so you won’t have to worry about your donation paying for wasteful expenditures. Just because an organization is famous doesn’t mean it will meet your standards for frugality. For example, United Way and Wounded Warriors have been touched by overspending scandals in the past. Charity Navigator can help you analyze overhead versus program expenses.

  • Am I interested in a domestic or international charity?

  • Do I prefer to support a small charity, where my donation is likely to have a larger impact, or am I more interested in giving to an organization that is close to achieving its goal?

  • Are there competing charities serving the same cause?

The answers to these questions can help you arrive at a final decision, and help you feel the joy of giving back to communities in need.

Page Updated October 5, 2017