How to Choose a Charity This Holiday

During a time of year that's filled with overindulgence, we all need a reminder about the true spirit of the holidays — giving. If you're feeling overwhelmed by the consumerism of the holidays, giving back is a great way to bring some balance into your life, while spreading a little bit of joy to others. But deciding to give is the easy part. With a plethora of worthy nonprofits out there, how do you choose the right one? If you feel inspired to give back this holiday season, use the following tips to help you find an organization and cause that you care about.

Donations can be a win-win for you: Not only do they benefit others, but they also come with tax benefits. To take advantage of the latter, consider making your contribution before the end of the year. By giving in 2017, you may be able to deduct your donation on your next tax return and reduce your taxable income. Keep in mind, there are rules around charitable contribution deductions, so talk to your tax advisor to make sure your donation qualifies.

Before you begin researching charities, here are three questions to ask yourself to make sure you give to an organization that you're proud to support.

1. Is the charity fiscally and ethically responsible? Find out how the organization is doing financially. Reputable nonprofits should be transparent with this information. Also, look into how the organization uses its donations; in particular, find out how much of each dollar you donate will go to administrative needs versus the actual cause. In addition, assess whether they are impactful and effective. If they're not helping to stimulate change, that may be a sign of irresponsible financial and operational practices.

2. Are they a true nonprofit? For your contribution to be tax-deductible, make sure the organization is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization. The IRS has an online tool you can use to check if an organization is eligible.

3. Do their values align with yours? Aside from the cause itself, research the organization's background and beliefs. Do you want the nonprofit to have religious affiliations or none? How about political ties? Be sure to ask not just about what they do but why to ensure your donations are powering the kind of change you're passionate about.

Once you know your criteria for choosing a nonprofit, it's time to narrow it down to the specific cause. If you're not sure where to begin, here are just a few types of charities that you can seek out.

Animal Welfare: Animal shelters, animal cruelty prevention, veterinary science

Arts & Culture: Performing arts, museums, historical societies, historical preservation, art education

Education: Early childhood development programs, underserved youth programs, special education, scholarship funds, education policy and reform

Environment: Clean water, land and wildlife conservation, sustainable energy, disaster relief, agriculture

Global: Human rights groups; international peace and security; social, agricultural, and medical support for developing countries; foreign policy research

Health: Medical research, health education, patient and family advocacy, public awareness for various diseases

Humanitarian: Hunger relief, refugee aid, homeless shelters, programs for abused women and children

Ready to find a charity that supports your favorite cause? is an excellent resource to help you find top charities, search for organizations by category, and discover even more tips about smart giving. And remember — giving back doesn't always have to come in the form of money. The gift of your time is often what's needed most to make a difference.

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