Do's and Don'ts of Holiday Charitable Giving

The holidays are prime fundraising time for nonprofits. Throughout the month there will be numerous requests donations or volunteer help. The following advice will you use your time and money wisely.

Don't get scammed by a fake website.
Unfortunately, unscrupulous people have learned to mimic nonprofit websites and advertising campaigns. To avoid being scammed, here are a few precautions:

  • Never click through to an organization from a link sent to you, this could be a link to a fake website.
  • Google the EXACT name of the charity to ensure you're on their real website.
  • For lesser known charities, look for evidence on the web that they exist. Most real charities will leave an electronic trail of meeting minutes, newspaper articles, or mentions by other organizations.
  • If donating by mail, use the website to verify the address.

For more on this read Beware of sham organizations.

Don't support stand alone projects.
Activities such as distributing toys, feeding the hungry, or helping the homeless should be coordinated with long-term programs. Without coordination, your time and donation could be wasted. A homeless man explained the problem well in the NPR article "Advice from a Homeless Man":

"In a 2-hour span," Sheptock wrote, "no less than 6 groups of do-gooders came through the park feeding the homeless. After the 3rd or 4th group, I began to tell people, 'No more. I can't eat anymore' and ask them if they were trying to stuff me like a turkey."... "but come Jan. 2, they'll be hungry again, especially on weekends when it's hard to find food."

The problem isn't just with food, there are issues with the delivery of clothing, toys, or sleeping bags too. For more on this read The problem with stop and dropping.

Don't send donated goods overseas.
Many charities encourage donors to send Christmas presents to children in developing countries. Unfortunately, sending goods overseas is generally not the best way to help. Donated goods are often inappropriate for the local climate, religion, or way of life. In addition, it costs more to ship the goods than to purchase them locally. Buying goods in the local marketplace boosts the local economy, helping more people than just that one child. For more on this read six questions you should ask before shipping donated goods overseas. As a rule of thumb, donated goods should only be given in your local community.

Do check with local nonprofits before taking up a collection of donated goods.
Before you start a clothes, book, or shoe drive, check with the charity you want to support. Never assume they'll accept your donations. Find out what goods are most needed. What sizes, styles, and amounts are requested. You may be surprised by what you find.

Don't feel pressured to give.
Being a good donor means evaluating a charity before donating. Giving at the cash register or when called at home rewards those charities with the most aggressive fundraising campaigns, not the ones that do the best job. Ask for a brochure and take the time you need before deciding. If they don't give you the information you request -- don't donate. The people that approach you in the mall or on the phone (called chuggers for charity muggers) generally work for a middleman and keep a large percentage of the amount you donate. Giving via the charity's website ensures they receive your full donation. Want more information? Read Should you give at the register?

Do keep volunteer opportunities in perspective.
It takes a great deal of time and effort to plan and supervise large volunteer events. Often it's faster and easier for staff to do the work themselves. These events may be held for positive PR, as a fundraising activity, or as an awareness raising or educational event. If the volunteer opportunity interests you, go ahead and participate. Just keep in perspective how much you're actually "giving back."

Do consider donating or volunteering throughout the year.
People's needs do not end with the holidays. If your goal is to teach your child to be charitable, there are many opportunities throughout the year to volunteer or donate to good causes. The best volunteers are the long-term ones that can be counted on day to day. If you're willing to donate your professional skills, even better. Nonprofits struggle to pay for professional assistance as this is considered "overheads" and is frowned upon by donors.

Do take the time to evaluate a charity before giving.
Always evaluate a charity before giving, do not assume that good intentions are enough to guarantee good aid.