How to Choose the Right Charity

Over the holiday season, we heard the familiar sound of the Salvation Army bells ringing. For many, it’s a reminder to give to others in need. Here are some useful tools that help your search for a charity that aligns with your values.

In working with clients over the years, I found that those who give their time and money to a cause they care deeply about are more fulfilled. Perhaps it’s because the simple act of helping others amplifies a greater purpose in all of us.

But before I go into the details of finding great charities to donate to, I want to spend some time on the myths of overhead.

Many think that administrative and marketing costs — commonly referred to as overhead — in charities are somehow a bad thing. After all, most of us would rather feed more people or pay for more cancer research than support the staff’s salaries. But while we all want charities to use our money wisely, we should place more emphasis on the outcomes they make rather than on the amount of their overhead.

I’ve been involved with the National Brain Tumor Society for over 20 years. When people receive the devastating news that they have a brain tumor, NBTS’s counselors are there to help them sort through their emotions, understand their treatment options and provide support for them and their families every step of the way. The salaries and other expenses for the counselors fall under the administration costs, but I think we all agree that the counselors’ service is valuable to those the organization serves.

If you’re not sure about how to find reputable charities or you want to research a charity before giving to them, a great place to start is Charity Navigator.

This is a fantastic one-stop resource to learn more about all types of 501(c) (3) nonprofit organizations. You can find information about their missions and financial statements, and also compare several charities before making your decision. The website rates charities with stars based on their financial health, transparency and accountability.

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

If you want to make a difference in your community, consider giving to local foundations, which focus on the needs of your neighborhood. Many community organizations fund several charitable initiatives each year with programs that serve children, veterans, the homeless and the aging. They also support giving circles where donors pool their money for a cause of their choosing. For example, the Business Women’s Giving Circle established by the Community Foundation for Northern Virginia seeks to empower women of all ages to innovate, lead and succeed.

To find a community foundation near you, use this community foundation locator.

Online crowdfunding is another way to give back. At a recent conference, I learned firsthand about the enormous potential that crowdsourcing has when someone takes a problem and invites the world to help solve it.

Charles Best, founder of DonorsChoose.org, took a lunch-time conversation with his fellow teachers and turned it into an astounding website where teachers ask for donations to pay for books and supplies they need. Since founded in 2000, DonorsChoose.org raised over $285 million and funded over 520,000 projects that help 13 million students in 60,000 schools. Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama both supported the efforts of DonorsChoose.org.

Whether you choose to fund a class field trip, donate to long-term projects, or volunteer at your local food bank, you change lives for the better – including yours.

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Written by Barry Glassman, CFP, who is the founder and president of Glassman Wealth Services, a fee-only investment management, financial planning and wealth management firm in McLean, Va. He has been honored with just about every Top Financial Advisor Award from the financial planning industry and his peers in publications including Barron’sInvestment News, Reuters, Washingtonian and Virginia Business. Barry provides investment and financial planning commentary on WTOP radio in the Washington, DC area. He is a member of the elite CNBC Financial Advisors Council and contributing writer at CNBC.com, Forbes.com, WTOP.com, Investment News and Financial Planning. Follow Barry on Twitter at @BarryGlassman. His website is www.glassmanwealth.com.

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