1. In the aftermath of any crisis, check with trusted NGOs like United Way to see if they're involved in relief efforts.
Across the world, United Way steps up in crises, and remains rooted in communities long after first responders are gone. In 37 countries and territories, local United Ways and our partners coordinate on the ground to ensure relief dollars go where they're most needed right then. And we stay in the community to help people rebuild their lives. For example, United Way Worldwide is working now to provide relief supplies to Turkey and Syria, in the aftermath of earthquakes that took the lives of 36,000+ people, at last count. You can donate to the United Way Turkey and Syria Earthquake Fund here.
2. View your donation as an investment
Any gift to a charity should be seen as an investment, and you want to invest in a charity that will make a major impact on its recipients while also giving you personal satisfaction. An investment approach to a particular group or cause will ensure a more meaningful experience for you. United Way, one of the world's biggest privately funded charities, is in the community year-round, working with the most effective partners to make real change.
3. Do your homework
When selecting where to give, it is important to gather all the facts. Conducting thorough research prior to giving will help you separate legitimate charities from frauds, as well as reassure you that your donation is truly helping those who need it most. To avoid fraudulent charities, make sure your chosen charity doesn’t engage in any of the following activities:
- Asking for cash donations
- Sending mail appeals disguised as bills or invoices
- Offering very little or no information on actual day-to-day operations
- Pressuring you to give
One reliable resource about charities is Charity Navigator, which evaluates thousands of charitable organizations based in the U.S. Another good resource is the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance, which reviews U.S. charities based on 20 Better Business Bureau accountability standards.
4. Understand the tax benefits of giving
An added benefit to giving is that most charitable donations are tax-deductible. To receive a tax deduction, you will need the proper documentation when filing your income tax returns. The IRS requires a receipt for each tax-deductible contribution of $250 or more. Depending on the amount or type of your gift, you may need to provide additional documents with your tax form, such as Form 8283 for each non-cash donation exceeding $500. Keep in mind that charitable giving qualifies for a tax deduction only if it goes to a tax-exempt organization, as defined by section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Examples of qualified institutions include religious organizations, nonprofit agencies, museums, volunteer fire companies and organizations that maintain public parks.
4. Decide how you will give, and how much
Financial donations are the most popular charitable gifts, but there are other ways to help your favorite cause. Many organizations will accept property and goods, as well as your time. There are many options on how to give, including donating directly online, by mail, through payroll deduction or through a donor-advised fund. Additionally, find out if your employer will match your charitable gift. This will even further maximize your investment.
5. Track your donations
Once you have made your gift, mark your calendar with important dates of your charity’s meetings and key events for the year. These are excellent ways to see your investment at work. Also, be sure to track the dates and amounts you gave, payment methods and desired uses for your gift. You should automatically receive a receipt with an acknowledgement of your gift. If you don’t, be sure to follow up.