Generosity: Before you write a check, check on the charity

‘Tis the season to be generous.
If you’re about to write a few checks to charities and causes, good for you.
If you’re still looking for the right or exceptional non-profits to support, I’ve got some good resources.  And I’m not about to steer you to some left-wing liberal nonprofit or goad you until you give to the Girl Scouts (though I have for a few years). Nor am I expecting to snag your entire raise or bonus check for a good group in Detroit.

Holidays and yearend may put us in a giving mood. ( photo)

Holidays and yearend may put us in a giving mood. ( photo)

Instead, I want to help you give responsibly –  to choose charities that will use your donation effectively and not spend much on fundraising or bigwig salaries. And I want to make that easy for you to do.  If you need ideas, start with Charity Navigator’s excellent lists of 10 great charities. Or look in these five fine resources:

  1. Charity Navigator: This is my go-to place to see how a charity checks out and compares to its peers. It rates more than 5,000 nonprofits and has some amazing resources, including donor tips and the 10 Highly-Rated Charities with Low Paid CEOs.  If you’re looking for the best, four-star charities, you can sort these  by state or by cause or by their size.  This makes it easy to find ones that merit a big check.
  2. GreatNonprofits   —  This site gives donors, volunteers and people served by nonprofits a place to post reviews. It is the Zagats of the charity world, and also has a meaty blog.
  3. GuideStar – Go here only if you’re willing to invest some time on a deeper dive into a charity. You can download the latest financial reports filed with the IRS on Guidestar LINK.  This may be where you come if you’re considering joining a committee or the board of a nonprofit.
  4. Ministry Watch – The site is new to me, but it seems very solid. It produces a list of 30 “shining light” Christian causes and another of problematic ones whose founders have been arrested or lost their IRS tax-exempt status.
  5. Philanthropy blogs –  There are so may choices in the “good section” of, a blog aggregation site, and then check fundraisers writing for those who like to see things from the other side.  Yet I haven’t found the ideal blog that helps you be a smarter donor.  I hope to add one or two here soon.

Some other tips I picked up while researching this post:

  • Thousands of corporations have charity gift-matching programs and some of them will give up to $30,000 and $50,000 as long as your check is similar sized. See a list
    Better to donate via check - or cash in a kettle or plate. ( photo)

    Better to donate via check – or cash in a kettle or plate. ( photo)

    of the top 100 corporate matching programs on GreatNonprofits.

  • If you want to maximize your impact, give about half of your total charitable budget to one charity or cause. Before you do, take extra care in choosing.
  • If you want to spread your donations out throughout the year, pick one day a month – or one a week ala #GivingTuesday – and contribute to a cause that matters to you or is meaningful in that moment.
  • Money magazine suggests old-fashioned checks are the best way to donate since credit cards and online portals can subtract up to 5 percent of your contribution.

Now go ahead – be generous, and write a lot of checks. You’ll end the year on a high note that way.