Make the Most of Your Charitable Giving This Year

With the holidays coming, you can buy your gifts and make a donation all at the same time.

November 30, 2017 5:00 am

As the days get colder and the nights get longer, the season of giving is starting to roll in.

Roughly 40 percent of charitable donations are made in the last three months of the year, known as the giving season in the philanthropic world. Americans gave $390 billion to charities last year, up nearly 3 percent from 2015, according to Giving USA.

But as many begin to feel more charitable, there are organizations that are less-than-worthy of receiving that money. There are millions of charities to choose from, but the downside is that not all of them will use your money as they promise.

“We vote with our dollars every single day,” said Joe Emory, who runs the Hot Topic Foundation, to RealClearLife. “You probably like to spend your money where the company is doing something good.”

Even well-known charity organizations like the Red Cross have been criticized for the way they handle their funds.

Here are a couple of smart ways to donate this holiday season:

Vet your giving with Charity Navigator

Charity Navigator was created in 2001 after John P. Dugan gave a significant donation and had fraudulent claims come out against the organization. He decided there needed to be a resource for individuals to know where their money is going and know which charities are not worth donating to, explained Sara Nason, who has been Charity Navigator’s marketing manager since May.

The free online resource creates ratings for organizations based on 24 metrics. There are two categories: financial health and accountability and transparency.

“When you’re giving money, there’s nothing more important than doing your research,” Nason told RealClearLife during a phone interview.

Transparency is judged from Form 990 data, information from the organization’s website, and looking at how open the organization is about their practices. Meanwhile, the higher the financial health score, the more the donor can say it will use their income well and generally have healthy financial practices.

You can also check out GuideStarCharityWatch and GiveWell.

Use websites to buy gifts that include a donation

 There are plenty of organizations out there that want to help make giving donations easier. As a bonus, these sites give donations have charity as part of their business plan, so you can buy a gift for a friend or family and donate, all in one fell swoop.



Charitybuzz took one of the oldest charity ideas in the book — the auction — and made it digital. Every winning bid then goes to support a nonprofit or charity.

“(We) created a marketplace or destination online for people to live out wildest dreams through supportive causes,” said Ben Erwin, the Chief Revenue Officer for Charity Network and General Manager for Charitybuzz.

The online marketplace gives you access to celebrities, destinations, you name it. You could even buy a lunch with Prince Albert II of Monaco (by having lunch, you would be donating to autism movement therapy).

To make sure that the charities they work with are utilizing their funds correctly, Erwin said, they rely on the IRS and federal government, as well as other watchdog agencies.

Erwin also wanted people to know that it is not just a fundraising opportunity, but an awareness opportunity.

“We are very focused on maximizing dollars raised for our partners and continuously giving customers what they want, so that they continue coming back,” Erwin said. “But we want to be a destination that tells stories and educates people about all the great work the organizations (we work with) do.”

Gifts for Good

Need to buy a company holiday gift? Or maybe you are having a lot of employees start in the new year? Well, Gifts for Good curates premium gifts for companies and professionals, but what you buy supports charitable causes.

The organization is“very conscious of the types of nonprofits and social enterprises they bring on board,” Laura Hertz, CEO and Co-Founder of Gifts for Good, told RealClearLife. The organization looks for groups that are making the best quality gifts, but also, the groups that have the most impactful work.

“(The group) has to be donating a material amount but we’re looking beyond that, we’re looking for nonprofits and social enterprises that have really high impact, they may directly employ a disadvantaged group, or are really trying to help disadvantaged groups redirect their lives, or be a buy-one-give-one organization,” Hertz told RealClearLife.

The group works with 40 nonprofit and social enterprises around the world. Each is highly vetted, Hertz said. Hertz and her co-founder, Jerry Eisenberg, met with 90 percent of the organizations to see their operations and used Charity Navigator or other organizations as a preliminary background check. When you buy a gift from Gifts for Good, you can see the direct impact of every gift — how many meals, how many days of employment, how many days of schooling — and the organization wants to work with nonprofits or social enterprises that can give this data.

Hertz said that though they are expecting an increase in gift buying during the holiday season, she is hoping that they can make an impact year-round.

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