It's "please give" time again.
Every year, as the holidays approach, charities from near and far swamp us with requests for financial support.
We Americans are a generous people. When we see a need, we want to help. The family that has lost its home to fire, the child fighting a serious disease, the community devastated by a tornado all touch our hearts.
But, according to a 2010 study by the IRS, there are over 1.5 million charitable organizations in the U. S.
Since very few of us have the unlimited resources necessary to fill all the needs, to answer every urgent plea, how do we make sure the funds we want to give go to the organizations or individuals who can best use them?
Recently I was having this discussion with my pal, Court, a very sharp gent who happens to be a computer guru. He told me he and his wife had been looking into the charity scene in preparation for the annual giving season. He said they turned to their favorite information source, the Internet, to find out which charity has the best track record when it comes to using donations as they are intended. The site they studied was www.charitynavigator.org. He urged me to give it a try.
I browsed through the site's listings and gained a much better understanding of the world of charities.
For instance, I discovered the "big guys," in other words the top well-known non-profits, such as the American Red Cross, World Vision, the City of Hope and the American Cancer Society have annual expenses of over $500 million. That means the small donations you and I make will likely only be used to "pay the bills" of these giants.
The website also included a list of charities who currently pay their CEOs large salaries. And, in these cases, the non-profits named actually use less than 60 percent of their funds for the programs and services they claim to support.
Looking over the website convinced me it's best if we continue using the method our family has followed for years in our charitable giving.
With few exceptions, we focus our donations on local organizations and individuals.
Among our favorite groups to support are local volunteer fire departments. What would we do without them? And, when it comes to support, what would they do without the backing of the people they serve?
Our churches, of course, are the focus of ongoing giving. Keeping them healthy helps our neighbors and the community as a whole.
Giving support to the local schools as well as organizations like the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts puts funds where they most benefit the youth of today, the leaders of tomorrow.
Another of our favorite close-to-home efforts to support is the local food pantry. After years of working as pantry volunteers, son Tim and I have seen first hand how many families are struggling to put food on the table. Not only do we routinely drop off bags of extra groceries, but we try to support the pantry's fund drives, as well.
Although holiday time is still a few weeks away, you can be sure the requests for donations will be starting very soon. Since we all have a limited amount of money to spare these days, be sure to give extra thought to the target of your donations. Just as with individuals and families in this economy, organizations and causes have to make every dollar count. Now that giving season is approaching, make sure your dollars go where they will help as many folks as possible.