How to Give It Away: 5 Ways to Make Your Charity Dollars Go Further

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On the heels of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday, a partnership spearheaded by the 92nd Street Y in New York City launched Giving Tuesday, turning the idea behind all those one-day consumer events on its head.

The impulse to give something back around the holidays is only natural, even if today’s economy means many of us have less to give than in the past. The lackluster economy has taken a toll on charities, too; they say they depend on donations more than ever due to cutbacks in government spending.

No matter how much you give, these tips will help you make sure you get the most bang for your charity buck.

1. Read expert (and non-expert) reviews. Sites like CharityNavigator.org, CharityWatch.org, GuideStar.org and FoundationCenter.org look at charities’ financial records and corporate governance standards. They rate them based on things like how much money they spend on fund-raising and if they have rules to prevent conflicts of interest among their leaders. The Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance uses a 20-point list of standards that includes fundraising practices, how much they spend on their programs, the quality of governance, how forthcoming they are in their public information and how they measure their effectiveness, says H. Art Taylor, president and CEO of BBB Wise Giving Alliance.

(MORE: Why the Coconut Craze Isn’t Helping Farmers)

GreatNonprofits.org offers a different way to take a look at charities — through reviews written by ordinary people. It’s not the kind of hard-numbers information you’ll get from either the BBB or the evaluation sites, but it’s a way to get a feel for a nonprofit’s “voice” and a sense of where it fits into its community.

2. Check efficiency. The most common metric for gauging charities is how much of every dollar a charity brings in goes towards their cause, as opposed to fund-raising or other administrative costs. A general rule of thumb for large charities is that 75% of all donations should go towards the cause, says Sandra Miniutti, vice president at CharityNavigator. The BBB’s threshold is a little lower because its network of local bureaus also evaluates smaller charities, which tend to spend proportionately more on overhead. It stipulates that every charity should spend at least 65% of its expenses on programs, Taylor says.

3. Check with the taxman. If you’re considering donating to a charity that’s too small or too new to be on the radar of these sites, dig into their 990, where all of this information about finances and governance is recorded. This is the form nonprofits have to file with the IRS, and you don’t have to be an accountant to get at least a general sense of how the organization handles its money and its organizational practices.In fact, Miniutti says just asking for this paperwork can be a good way to weed out sketchy charities. They’re required by law to make this information available to the public, so excuses or resistance add up to a big red flag. You can find 990s on your own at the National Center for Charitable Statistics.

4. Don’t call me, I’ll call you. Taylor advises against giving a donation in response to a call you get from a telemarketer. Telemarketing campaigns are typically an expensive way for charities to raise money, so much so that the outside telemarketing agencies often pocket most or even all of your donation — probably not what you have in mind for that money. “If you really like what you’re hearing from the telemarketer, go directly to the charity and give them the money,” Taylor says.(MORE: How Bad Mergers Are Killing Innovation)

5. Be suspicious of solicitations that come out of the blue. Solicitations that come via snail mail should say what the charity does in clear and specific language. You should be able to get an idea of what they’re going to do with your money after reading it. If not, move on.

If you get a plea to donate via snail mail, make really sure the charity is what it claims. Taylor says shady groups will adopt similar names as nonprofits or build fake websites to con people into giving up cash. Use similar vigilance with door-to-door or street solicitations. Before giving them any money, Taylor advises, get the charity’s full name and mailing address, and find out if your contribution is tax deductible and if the charity is licensed in that state.

114 comments
GreenScambuster
GreenScambuster

@GreatNonprofits @TIMEBusiness Hey Bill..why are you giving money away to LIGHTSAIL ENERGY? You must know it's just a Green Widget SCAM!

TinaBalgobin
TinaBalgobin

@GreatNonprofits I'll just have another idea and enjoy the world freely. You on the other hand...

gabnatcal
gabnatcal

@RarePlanet @BillGates @TIMEBusiness All weapons should de BANNED.Only Army

saclovegirl
saclovegirl

@BillGates @TIMEBusiness sir i have new idea in the technology field of computer and networking.

PatrickMens333
PatrickMens333

@billgates i'm 21 and i really really want @ least 5mins to acquire some help and some answers to some problems on how to eradicate poverty

RagingKong
RagingKong

@BillGates hey how bout donate to some churches who help out the homeless yet they r going broke because of it

alamcu
alamcu

@BillGates..love you so much..u r a real hero..

SeekerTarget
SeekerTarget

@BillGates @TIMEBusiness I 'd like to make small library in my village.

kgebeyehu2012
kgebeyehu2012

@BillGates @TIMEBusiness the oly rich person i admir in the world. This b/c he use his mind to get there. Remain bless man.

mutthie
mutthie

@BillGates @TIMEBusiness good advise. How about helping out this awesome project -skateistan? . http://t.co/MeVrfOLM @skateistan @erikajan1

umershah17
umershah17

@BillGates @TIMEBusiness hi bill gates hoe r u ,,,,,,, sir my help plz iam poor man plz sir help

abayomifawehinm
abayomifawehinm

@BillGates @TIME @TIMEBusiness #nonprofits thanks for sharing. Please are there articles on this?

abcinharmony
abcinharmony

@BillGates @TIMEBusiness Off topic, that little boy sitting cross-legged has such a beautiful *smile*. You have some great pics, thanks!

abcinharmony
abcinharmony

@BillGates @TIMEBusiness off topic- that little boy sitting cross-legged in your small pic has such a beautiful SMILE.

edrees7
edrees7

@BillGates Thank you for all that you have done, for your kindness and generosity. May God protect you

Bukharza
Bukharza

@billgates @timebusiness

OnlyWhiteTiger
OnlyWhiteTiger

@BillGates @TIMEBusiness Bill you are always welcomed in my house and your work is well known to me Merry Christmas

DeanLad08
DeanLad08

@BillGates If I gave you 30 minutes and a room full of entrepreneurs, what would you tell them? #ttr

granfinaligrife
granfinaligrife

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chris_tophers
chris_tophers

@BillGates broh, internet gue ngeleg mulu nih broh, bantuin gua dong broh

JillO66
JillO66

@BillGates Thank you 4 that info. Rubicon is also great place 2 start. Sandy vics need all the help right now. RT. Thanks have a good day!!

Jagbormbai
Jagbormbai

@BillGates Do you also support for profit start ups needing starting capital? I have been in start up stage for 4yrs with no capital.

FournierCompany
FournierCompany

@BillGates @TIMEBusiness Know of any resources for establishing a non-profit? I'm working on that now (California)

nneka_30
nneka_30

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nneka_30
nneka_30

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royaldreams93
royaldreams93

@BillGates @TIMEBusiness hello sir, :-) i am a big fan of you and i have a dream to meet you.

bratrdy
bratrdy

@billgates @timebusiness Wow!

chengxinake
chengxinake

@BillGates you konw most chinese don`t like win8 .it`s good for a tablet but not for a laptop or a desktop

joshuak2077
joshuak2077

You are doing a great job to Humanity..., however the fundamentals of Global economy imply possibilities for farther development if some enhancements and changes are implemented that could help more people rise up from poverty and the markets start functioning instead of many waiting just on help... http://joshuakonov.wordpress.com/

ChefHenrik
ChefHenrik

@BillGates my personal recommendation. J.A.M. International. They give hands up not hand outs.

ChristianMzN
ChristianMzN

@BillGates @TIMEBusiness Thanks I help charities getting more bang for each buck & this is part of the other side of the same coin. Thanks

92Mim92
92Mim92

@BillGates why did you remove the gadgets in Windows 8?

Iam_Amit_K
Iam_Amit_K

@BillGates Life isn`t about waiting for the storm to pass, it`s about learning to dance in the rain.