How to do the most good with your donated dollars

Charities differ in how much actually goes to their mission

SAN ANTONIO – It’s the season for giving, and with so many people impacted by COVID-19, the demand for help is great. Before you open your heart and wallet, there are some ways to maximize your contribution.

Across the country, charities have been slammed.

“There’s people coming in nice cars, not so nice cars -- people walking. We don’t judge a book by its cover,” said Matt Gullotta, with the Gullotta House in New York. “We all have bad days. We are all going through something.”

If you’d like to help your community, organization are ready to put your energy or money to use. But Consumer Reports says there are some things to consider.

“Charities differ a lot in how much of the money they raise goes for programs instead of covering the expense of raising money,” said Margot Gillman, Consumer Reports’ editor. “Effective charities devote much more of their operating budget to the services they provide than to their other expenditures, like salaries and marketing costs.”

You can research charities and see which ones meet those benchmarks on CharityNavigator.org or the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance.

Checking the charity’s own website can give you more information about its mission, a list of its board of directors and its latest financial reports.

“If the charity site doesn’t list its financial details online, the organization is not very transparent, which could be a red flag,” Gillman said.

Watch out for fees, too. Online giving platforms and crowdfunding websites are convenient and popular, but they often charge payment processing fees, perhaps 3% or more. That money is not actually going to the charity. Instead, giving cash or a check does not incur fees.

Take advantage of donation matching if your employer offers it.

As a result of the pandemic, many families are food insecure. A recent Consumer Reports survey found that one in five American shoppers has had to turn to a food bank in recent months.

While food banks welcome most donated food, Consumer Reports suggests prioritizing cash over cans because monetary donations may have bigger impact. With cash, food banks can buy food wholesale and in bulk.

If you’re not able to give money now, you can also give your time.

You can look for volunteer opportunities at VolunteerMatch.org or Idealist.org.

“It’s all about giving back to your community,” Gullotta said. “We’re all in this together.”

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