The numbers show that Americans are a benevolent lot. Americans gave an estimated $373 billion to charity in 2015, $15 billion more than the year before, continuing an upward trend in charitable giving.
Much of that giving is the result of millions of personal choices made at the individual level. But there’s no reason to go it alone: Help navigating the giving process—from causes listed by topic to watchdog ratings—is available online:
The United Way of Greater Rochester (www.uwrochester.org ) is a good starting point to find a list of hundreds of regional charities. Click on the Donor Options link and peruse away.
Rochester Area Community Foundation (www.racf.org) is another valuable source of information on a vast range of local charities and causes. The full list is available by fund names and causes via the site’s Donors page.
The Community Wishbook (www.communitywishbook.org) includes information and links to hundreds of local charities. The site also details the nonprofits’ non-monetary needs in terms of volunteers, goods and services.
GreatNonprofits is a Yelp of sorts for the nonprofit world. The site features a Rochester link (greatnonprofits.org/city/rochester/NY) with a long list of local charities and reviews of some from volunteers, donors and other beneficiaries.
Charity Navigator (www.charitynavigator.org) is one of the leading go-to online locations for the skinny on more than 8,000 charities. The portal features professional analysts who assess nonprofits’ financial statements and rate worthy causes. Charity Navigator also includes a giving calculator to help prospective donors gauge their tax benefits and how much they may be able to give to charity, along with tips, guidance and information on current hot topics, such as the Syrian humanitarian crisis.
GuideStar (www.guidestar.org) has a solid reputation as a valuable tool for researching charities. The site includes information on the programs and finances of more than 1.8 million IRS-recognized nonprofits.
Philanthropedia (www.myphilanthropedia.org), a division of GuideStar, helps donors connect with local, national and international charities covering dozens of causes. Using research from more than 3,000 experts, Philanthropedia reviews nearly 800 leading nonprofits. The site also includes helpful tips for charity newcomers.
Give.org (give.org) is the national Better Business Bureau’s charity arm, providing reports on evaluations of more than 1,300 charities.
CharityWatch (www.charitywatch.org) is a watchdog and information service that provides financial statistics and assigns letter grade ratings for approximately 600 major American charities. Causes are organized by category: animals, environment, cancer, crime prevention, child protection, senior citizens and more.
GiveWell (www.givewell.org) analyzes a select list of charities that, based on in-depth research, achieve the most in terms of various metrics, such as lives saved and improved per dollar spent.
New York and the federal government also provide online advice and guidance. These include the IRS (www.irs.gov/charities-non-profits/charitable-organizations), Federal Trade Commission (www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/feature-0011-charity-scams) and the New York State Attorney General’s Office (www.charitiesnys.com).
A three-minute video produced by the National Philanthropic Trust, a public charity based in Pennsylvania, suggests ways to figure out what charitable causes resonate with you (www.youtube.com/watch?v=uca6bDiLbjY).
A recent Town & Country article covers the seven questions donors should consider to ensure their donations are making the largest possible impact (www.townandcountrymag.com/society/advice/g3032/how-to-choose-a-charity).
A blog produced by the Center for High Impact Philanthropy at the University of Pennsylvania (www.impact.upenn.edu/category/blogs) contains beaucoup advice for getting the biggest bang for your buck, including an annual High Impact Giving Guide featuring its top 11 recommended causes.
GlobalGiving (www.globalgiving.org) has tapped into the relatively young charity vehicle of crowdfunding to connect nonprofits, donors and businesses in nearly every country on planet Earth.
Giving Communities (www.givingcommunities.org) matches donors with kindred spirits who share similar philanthropic interests, values, circumstances and passions. The site includes a number of helpful resources and tools, including a survey to see which Giving Communities causes may be a good fit, a template for a giving plan and a search engine to match with causes around the world.
Focusing Philanthropy (www.focusingphilanthropy.org) connects donors with a programs designed to help people increase income, improve quality of life and achieve self-sufficiency.
Philanthropist and entrepreneur Dan Pallotta (creator of the AIDS cycling rides and breast cancer walks) offers advice in a popular TED talk. He opines on how to select charities that fit your passion and on transforming the philanthropic landscape for all and for the better. (blog.ted.com/how-to-pick-the-charity-thats-right-for-you)
Libraries are a rich source of material on charitable involvement. Go analog with three books of recent vintage that aim to inspire people to aim high to make a difference: “A Path Appears” (apathappears.org/book) by duo Nicholas Kristoff, a New York Times columnist, and Sheryl WuDunn, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and business executive; “Doing Good Better” (www.effectivealtruism.com) by Oxford professor William MacAskill, a founder of Effective Altruism, a social movement that aims to discern the most effective charitable paths; and “How to Be Great at Doing Good” by animal protection advocate Nick Cooney (nickcooney.com).
Richard Zitrin is a Rochester-area freelance writer.
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