Education. Human services. Arts and culture.

There are an estimated 1.4 million charities in the United States as of 2021.

With more than one million options to choose from, it can be tough to pick just one or two charities.

So, experts recommend taking these three steps before making any final decisions…

Run a Search

First and foremost, before getting your heart set on a specific charity, run it through search tools like Charity Navigator.

Charity Navigator rates charities based on their financial health, accountability, and transparency to help donors make informed decisions about their contributions. Charity Navigator has evaluated over 8,000 tax-exempt charities, so if your chosen charity is not listed on this platform, it may be a red flag.

Ask the Tough Questions

If you’re being asked to give payment information over the phone, you first need to ask for another form of payment. Legitimate charities should be able to accept payment in all forms – cards, checks, cash, etc. You do not need to give your credit card information over the phone. In fact, this is highly discouraged since you won’t have a paper trail to follow if things go south.

Before sending any payment, you should also ask the fundraiser for the charity’s exact name, web address, and mailing address, so you can confirm it later. Pay careful attention to the name and make sure you research it before making any financial commitments. Some fake charities use names that sound like large well-known charities.

And finally, flat out ask how much of your donation will go directly to the program you want to help. Then, call the organization directly and ask them, too, or see if the information is on their website. What else does the charity spend money on? Some fundraising can be very expensive, leaving the charity with little money to spend on its programs.

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Thomas Kane, a Chicago executive with a passion for giving back to local and international charities, says taking the time to ask the tough questions before making a financial commitment is crucial.

“You want to make sure you’re getting the most out of your giving,” he shares. “Whether you’re asking these questions over the phone, or via Zoom, it’s imperative that you ask before you commit.”

Pick a Passion Project

Make sure that you believe in the cause and commitment of your chosen charity. Chances are, you will most likely stick with your chosen organization for at least a few years, so make sure it’s something you believe in.

“When determining a charity to select, you need time to research and ensure that cause is something that you believe in so that you can be the best advocate for the organization,” shares Tom Kane. “When I was approached about funding Feed Chicago, I knew it was my opportunity to lend a helping hand.  The work they are doing goes beyond delivering an individual meal. There is one big plan – restore food service work, feed heroes and nourish communities that need it most.”

Whether you decide to give to the environment or education, make sure you research, ask, and reflect before making any final decisions.