How to Choose a Charity for a Holiday Gift

As promised in yesterday’s post on giving back during the holiday season, I’m checking in to share some knowledge I’ve gained over the past few years about how to choose a charity for a holiday gift. So let’s get to it!


How to Choose a Charity for a Holiday Gift




Where to Start?

At the very beginning! Think about all the possibilities your gift could provide, and what you’d like it to do. It’s okay to keep it broad. If there was one thing in the world you could change, what would it be? Or, are there lots of things you’d like to see happen? Just spend some time on it and see what you come up with!



Narrow Your Focus

Now decide what’s most important on your list of possibilities. If you wanted to “make a difference” in the broadest possible terms, consider more carefully what kind of difference you mean. Ask yourself two questions. Do I want my gift to have a global impact or do I want to keep it local? And, would I rather make a gift to an organization that helps people, or give directly to individuals and families? Answering these two questions will go a long way in helping you choose.


Global vs. Local

There are people (and animals, and natural environments) in need all over the world, but you can also do a world of good by helping out those in your hometown. So whether you go global or stay local, donating to a charity can make a big difference.

  • Global: You might donate to an international organization, or to an American charity that offers help overseas. Examples include big names like the American Red Cross, UNICEF, and Save the Children.
  • Local: Your cause of choice could be an after-school program in art or music at a school that doesn’t have enough money to fund these activities on its own, or a local food bank that needs some extra help to provide families with holiday meals.



Not-for-Profit Organization vs. Individual Recipient

  • Organizations: Most traditional charities will take your donation and use it to help further their mission, called a “charitable purpose”. For example, when you donate money to the American Red Cross, they might use it for any number of things, from spending on supplies in a disaster relief area to running a training program for volunteers.
  • Individuals: You can reach out directly to people whether they’re in your community or half a world away. At home, you can donate to a scholarship fund to send an achieving student to college. And there’s something new as well called “microfinance”.
  • Microfinance: Small amounts of money are loaned to individuals in developing countries to help them start their own businesses. This can change their lives, by allowing them to buy a farm animal or pay for transportation to a more populated area where they can sell their goods at a market. The key is that you give the money, and they make the decision of how it’s best spent. There are lots of charities that advertise the opportunity to buy someone a cow, but that doesn’t help the person if they have no way to sell its milk! A great way to learn more is by looking at Kiva’s website.



New York City Christmas windows



Do you have a specific goal for your gift?

If so, the question of how much you plan to give is important. While every penny counts, it’s often sensible to decide you want to specifically direct the purpose of your donation only if the amount is large enough to justify doing so.

  • Example: When I was volunteering at a major non-profit organization in NYC, they’d get a few donations of $100 that asked for $10 to go to Program X, $15 to Program Y and $20 to Program Z, and the administrative cost of making that happen usually ate up most of the donation.
  • If you’re making a larger gift and you have a specific idea, the best course of action is to get in touch with the people who run the fundraising or development efforts at your charity of choice. They’re the ones who can help you understand whether what you give is suited to accomplishing the ultimate goal.



Make It A Family Affair

Whether you have a goal in mind or not, don’t go it alone. Ask friends and family to help you while you’re thinking all of this through and making important decisions. Even better, making a family tradition out of an annual charitable donation is a wonderful way to pass on the spirit of giving to the next generation.



Do Your Research

Having some family and friends to help out will be great for this part!

  • This website has data on non-profit organizations centralized in one place. You can make sure any charity you choose to donate to is a 501(c)(3) organization by looking at their GuideStar profile. What that means is that the organization has a charitable purpose, so they don’t pay the same kind of taxes that a company or a person would pay if their goal were to make a profit. The upshot for you? If you give money to a 501(c)(3) organization, you are allowed to take a tax deduction!
  • GiveWell and Charity Navigator: These online databases analyze charities and how they spend the money that they’re given so you can choose one that matches your goals for your gift.
  • Philanthropy Roundtable: An association of non-profit professionals and donors with lots of articles on current news and trends in philanthropy, if you’re interested in digging deeper and learning more!




Seven steps to choosing the right charity to make your holiday gift this year.







What do you think is most important in choosing a charity to give to?


Do you have a family tradition of giving back during the holiday season?


Would you like to see more posts about volunteering and giving back?







Disclaimer: I have volunteered at and worked with many nonprofit organizations over the past several years, and taken extensive coursework in this area. Regardless, I am not your financial or legal advisor, so I urge you not to rely completely on this advice and to do your homework!




© 2015 Renaissance Runner Girl. All rights reserved.


5 thoughts on “How to Choose a Charity for a Holiday Gift

  1. Great guide!
    I think you touched on a very important point: you need to figure out what your goal is in helping. For instance, when we decided to support individuals via kiva we specifically looked for female entrepreneurs or female students.


  2. I do want to see more posts about volunteering and giving back. And while I love that people like to give this time of year, I would love to see a cultural shift toward people seeing giving as something that needs to be done all year. I believe that most people are generous, kind, and really do want to give; I just wish that our culture valued giving back a little bit more.

    This season I have been giving a lot to Habitat for Humanity for my Global Village trip to Guatemala. I’ve been trying to encourage friends and family to do the same. It has been pretty tough, though. I think people just don’t quite understand what I’m doing, why it matters, and why it matters for them to support me. I’m also having to “compete” with the giving that many people are already doing this season. I suppose that’s a good competition to lose, eh? 😉


  3. As someone who used to work for a non-profit, this post is awesome! I think giving back, especially this time of year, is so important. Another little tip – if you can’t afford to give monetarily this year, pledging to volunteer or participate and fundraise for an event is just as, if not more, appreciated for charities!


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