Make Your Donations Count: How to Maximize Your Charitable Gifts This Holiday Season

Michael Teague |

Last October and November, the Northeastern US was rocked by Hurricane Sandy, a new class of “super storm” that caused unprecedented destruction and the loss of hundreds of lives as it devastated portions of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland, and Connecticut. Media coverage of the Sandy cleanup effort has dwindled, but rest assured that affected communities will be rebuilding their homes and lives for the foreseeable future.

One year later, the entire world looked on in horror as the largest typhoon ever recorded, typhoon Haiyan, slammed into the Philippines, leveling whatever was in its path and leaving behind a still-mounting death-toll of over 5,000 souls, as well as displacing tens of millions of the nation’s rural inhabitants.

Such environmental disasters have been occurring with greater regularity in recent years, and when they take place in economically deprived nations the effects are typically much worse. The images that fill the 24-hours news cycle after these calamities usually depict such unthinkable devastation that it is easy to be overcome with despair at one’s utter helplessness and inability to do anything that might alleviate the suffering of the victims.

Non-profit disaster relief and other humanitarian organizations such as the Red Cross go into high gear in these times, and their collection plates are perhaps one of the most accessible and simplest ways for individuals to contribute to aid efforts.

But in recent years, doubts have been cast on the integrity and efficacy of many charitable organizations operating across a variety of causes, particularly with regard to how the money they receive from donations is used.

For instance, though relief organizations go into hyper-fundraising mode in the wake of a disaster, the funds they take in are not necessarily intended for that particular disaster. Rather, these funds are frequently used to cover an organization’s operating costs, or invest in disaster preparedness rather than relief. While there is nothing wrong with asking for money for these purposes, many individuals are deliberately given the impression that their charity is going directly to the relief effort. In the worst case scenarios, charitable organizations have been discovered to be little more than money-making schemes.

With Thanksgiving upon us, many will be hoping to join those who have already done their part to help out with the recovery efforts in the Philippines. For those who are intent on having the money they donate devoted directly to Typhoon Haiyan relief, the non-profit website charitynavigator.org is a crucial resource.

The site helps prospective contributors find the most credible organizations working on any number of projects or reconstruction efforts throughout the world, and also has a number of tips for those seeking to make the most effective donations.

Among the site’s most basic guidelines for giving money to any organization include a number of simple but effective considerations:

  • When choosing an organization, look for those who provide the most detailed information about how they allocate funds.
  • When donating to a charity that does not provide enough clarity about where and how much of a donation will actually make it towards the cause in question, make sure to indicate in as many places as possible (on the donation form, or on the check you send in, for example) where you intend your money to go.
  • Choose the most established charity with a proven track record. Conversely, avoid unsolicited emails asking for money and personal information.
  • Do not send supplies to disaster areas, as these are difficult to distribute especially in the crucial period following a massive disaster, and are thus more or less worthless if not obstructionary.
  • Do your due diligence by making sure you have visited and read thoroughly through the organization’s official website. This will give a better idea of how legit an operation it is, as well as to which aspects of a given humanitarian effort it is oriented.

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