’Tis the season for feeling charitable. December is often the most popular month for giving to charities, according to Consumer Reports, which makes it all the more important to research and vet organizations before you choose where to donate.
“You don’t want to choose a charity by the name alone, since your donation may go to a questionable group,” Bennett Weiner, chief operating officer of the charity watchdog BBB Wise Giving Alliance, told Consumer Reports. It’s important that you know how organizations use donations, since some spend too much on administrative fees and fundraising; others may have shady spending practices or be “outright scammers.”
We at the Global Healthy Living Foundation — which does not solicit donations from our members, chronic disease patients, or the general public — think this advice is especially important for people living with chronic illness who want to pay it forward by supporting non-profits aligned with helping people to manage their health. People in this patient community often have more limited funds. When you give, you should know how you are actually helping others in need.
Here are some tips to help you navigate how to donate to a worthy charity.
Do some research
As a first step, Consumer Reports recommends vetting the charity with one or more of the big watchdog sites, such as BBB Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, or Charity Watch. Each of these sites uses a different mix of criteria, but generally, they examine such factors as a charity’s expenses, how they allocate their fundraising dollars, the cost of fundraising, transparency, and more.
In addition, go to the charity’s website directly. Reputable charities that solicit funds from the public should have a dedicated page on their website that provides thorough financial information on the organization as well where donations typically go or how they are used. A great example is the Spondylitis Associate of America’s page “Where Do Your Donations Go?”. The organization provides critical information, including financial disclosures and annual reports. If the charity you are researching does not provide this information, it is a red flag.
A key piece of information to look for is the ratio between fundraising expenses and program expenses. That demonstrates whether the organization is fundraising for services/programs to benefit the public — or if it is fundraising to keep itself operational.
Understand your taxes
Just because an organization says it is a non-profit does not mean your donation is automatically tax-deductible. If you are unsure about the classification of your donation as tax-deductible, verify the charity’s 501(c)(3) status with the applicable state Attorney General’s website or the IRS website. For example, if you buy a ticket to a gala or dinner fundraiser, the entire cost of the ticket may not be tax-deductible.
Give to organizations you trust
Consider your personal interactions and history with a charity, including the kind of information they share on social media and the nature of the emails they send you. If you have a good “gut feeling” based on how the organization communicates with you, contact them directly and find out the best way to give.
If you are interested in a certain cause, do an online search to find the right fit. Search the organization’s name + “rating” or “review” or “status” to find applicable data and information.
Don’t feel pressure
If you feel like you are being hounded by a certain group or organization or hear from them only when they want a donation, do not feel that you must donate. It is perfectly fine to say, “I will be donating to other causes this year, but I appreciate hearing what you have to say.”
Be careful about sharing personal information
Especially if this is your first time giving to a specific organization, be wary of giving out important personal information or credit card numbers over the phone.
Check back in
Stay up to date with the news, events, and programs that a charity is hosting or facilitating. If you donated through a specific fundraiser or person, feel free to circle back with them and ask how your donation has been used.
Give back without donating money
Don’t feel bad or less than if you are not able to donate money to your favorite charity. Some non-profit organizations — like ours — do not ask donations but facilitate other ways for people to volunteer using their time and energy.
We at CreakyJoints and the Global Healthy Living Foundation aim to support patients living with chronic disease by providing education, support, patient-centered research, and advocacy opportunities. This means you can contribute in many different ways, both small and large. You could share or comment an educational post from our social channels Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram to help raise awareness of important topics in the chronic illness community. You could participate in volunteer research studies about arthritis by using our ArthritisPower app to join our patient-centered research registry. You can join our 50-State Network as a volunteer patient advocate to share your story and fight for policies that improve access to quality health care.
If there is a charity you are interested in but can’t afford to donate money to right now, ask how you might help outside of making a monetary donation.