(StatePoint) Even when times are tough, many Americans budget a portion of their assets to go to charity. According to Giving USA, a research institute that publishes data and trends on charitable giving, Americans contributed more than $298.42 billion to charities in 2011.
While your heart may guide you to a particular charity, don't just hand over your hard-earned money without getting some information. Though all charities purport to be doing good work, some organizations have less than stellar track records. Just as you would scrutinize a financial investment, so should you examine a charity to ensure your money makes the biggest impact possible.
Fortunately, there are resources out there that can help. For example, the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, established by the Better Business Bureau, connects donors to charities they can trust. Without judging the worthiness of a charity's mission, BBB Wise Giving Alliance applies 20 Standards that ensure that a charity is aboveboard in everything it does, from money-management, to public transparency, to interactions with its board.
Your money will be better used if you donate to a charity that is well run and meets these standards.
So the next time you donate, first consider accessing a free report of the charity of your choice at www.give.org. And if your charity is not listed, you can request a review.
One sector, in particular, that is always in need of charitable support is education. Investing in education is investing in the future of the local, national and global communities.
Here are some great examples of educational organizations that meet the standards of BBB and could use your help.
DonorsChoose.org: This online charity makes it easy for donors to help students in need. Public school teachers post classroom project requests ranging from basic school supplies to musical instruments. Donors can choose projects based on criteria like location, subject, cost, or poverty level.
Girls Inc.: Girls Inc. offers programs that help girls navigate gender, economic and social barriers, equipping them to achieve academic success, lead healthy, physically active lives, manage money, and discover an interest in historically male-dominated fields like technology, engineering and math. They award multiple college scholarships annually.
National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD): NCLD advocates success for students with learning disabilities by connecting parents and educators with resources and tools.
You can get a free copy of an evaluative listing of educational and other national charities by sending your name and address to Wise Giving Guide, 3033 Wilson Blvd, Suite 600, Arlington, VA, 22201 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
With the cost of education on the rise, the need to offer financial support to educational institutions is increasingly important. But remember, if you're going to give, give wisely.