The choice should include not just your personal reasons and goals for giving to a particular cause. Your giving should be grounded in some understanding of where the greatest needs are, and which organizations are doing the best job. Most charitable gifts go to organizations that are already wealthy. Much less goes to organizations struggling to address issues like poverty. I’d encourage donors to give not only to the big, well-known charities but also to the smaller community-based organizations that are closest to the people most in need, and also to advocacy organizations that address the root causes of why so many people are in need in the first place.

Going to an organization’s website can provide important information, but may not give the kind of data that donors need most. I give money almost exclusively to organizations with which I have established some connection. This can be as simple as attending events to learn firsthand what their work is about, getting to know the staff doing the work or volunteering. Research shows that when we volunteer for an organization we’re more likely to also give money to that organization—and to do so in a more informed way.

Susan Ostrander, on how to give.

Professor Ostrander taught my Nonprofits, States, and Markets seminar at Tufts University, and more helpful guidelines to giving can be found in her interview about making donations matter. Great food for thought this holiday season!

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