This year, I started the giving a bit early, mostly because of the bombing of the MSF Hospital in Afghanistan. MSF (Doctors Without Borders) is one of my “Usual Suspects” in charity giving, I have given to them for several years. They are a great organization, and I upped the donation this year because of the problems that the USAF caused them. Sending the donation to MSF got me on a roll, and donations to Fisher House, The Salvation Army and Planned Parenthood followed. My donations are based on the good that I feel an organization does, and how well they use the money. Which brings me to the point of this post. How do you donate wisely?

I will ruffle some feathers here, and will preface this by saying that my opinions are my own, you can donate to whomsoever you like and any comments sent here about the organizations that I donate to (or dis) will be deleted with extreme prejudice. With that out of the way, lets proceed.

The first thing I do when thinking about donating to a group is to go to the website

It is a website devoted to gathering all the information you should check on when donating, in one easy site. It gives you information about finances (How much of the money you donate actually goes to a cause? You might be unpleasantly surprised), transparency and pay of the CEO. They also give information about problems with an organization (Red Cross, I am looking at you) and the mission of a group. Giving money without checking on a group might be better than just tossing it out of a helicopter, but not by much.

“What about the United Way” you might ask.  The United Way is an organization I will never, ever give to. I have had too many employers try to force contributions out of me, all to a group that ranges from 2 to 4 stars depending on what location you are in. The ultimate insult was “Your Fair Share”, a proposed giving rate. Let me tell you, when just out of school in an entry level job, “My Fair Share” was, in my estimation, a very damn small number. Nowadays, it’s a pretty large number, but the United Way will never see any of it. On a less personal note, the United Way is a cop out. It is a way to donate, without actually doing any work on where your money goes or how well it is used. Time to jump in the helicopter again…

I don’t like places that have palatial headquarters. The local Red Cross just built a new building, in an expensive part of town. That didn’t come cheap. The local Salvation Army, on the other hand, is in a 1960’s building in the poorer part of town. I will let you guess which one fits my idea of what their mission is.

So, how much should you give? That’s a personal question that only you can answer. My personal number has gone up to about 5% of net income over the years. However, I feel that is probably not doing enough. On the other hand, the people I admire take their own time to work for the charities. Donating your time is a much larger thing to me, and I wish I had the time to do exactly that. Writing a check seems paltry by comparison, but as I have pumped up the amounts over the years, I feel like I am helping somewhat.

My final answer on what you should give? Whatever you are able to, and whatever makes you feel good about yourself. I find that giving money to groups gives me a lot better outlook on life as a result. That makes it cheap, at any price.