Who You Should and Shouldn’t Donate To During the Holidays

Nicolas Cesare  | 

The holidays are a time of celebration and a time of giving, where we come together in the spirit of goodwill to improve the lives of others. Many charities see a huge influx of donations during the holiday season, as people choose to do their giving towards the end of the year. However, not everyone is reveling in the the spirit of giving; some grinches choose to exploit the altruism of the holidays and use other people’s charity to satisfy their own ends.

As the holidays begin to gear up, it’s more important than ever to know which charities you should donate to and which you should stay away from. By identifying good charities and avoiding charity scams, you can make sure that your holiday donations do the most good that they possibly can. Find how what are the best (and worst) charities out there.

How to Tell if a Charity is Trustworthy

The holidays can be a chaotic mess for many of us. With the hustle and bustle of gift-buying, getting family together, and volunteering, it can be tempting to donate to the first charity that comes calling. However, whether you’re giving money or donating food or you just want to volunteer your time, it’s worth it to put in the extra work and find out which charities will take your donations the furthest. In the best case, you can give to a charity that will use your gift effectively to improve the lives of others. In the worst case, you may fall victim to a scam charity that will keep your money for itself.

The FTC has some pointers on how to identify a good charity and how to pick out a potential scam. Good charities can be identified with some of the following markers:

  • They can provide detailed information. Any alleged charity that cannot tell you its name and where it is based is probably not worth your time. Callers or websites that refuse or aren’t able to provide this information may be illegitimate.
  • They have a good reputation. Don’t be afraid to search for discussions about this charity on the web. A good reputation over several years is a good sign that your charity really does have good intentions for your donations.
  • They accept tax-deductible contributions. Sometimes when you donate money, time, or physical goods, you can get a receipt validating a tax deduction for those donations. If your charity of choice offers donation receipts and is eligible for tax-deductible donations, then they have passed the muster of the IRS.

You should also cross-examine a charity against the records of independent charity watchdog organizations. Here are some such organizations that monitor the activity of charities to see how they use the resources they receive:

Some charities will put your money to poor use. Even worse, some people may masquerade as a charity when asking for money, only to use it for themselves and make your donation a waste. Watch for these signs of charity scams to make sure that your money goes to the right places:

  • They cannot prove eligibility for tax deductions on donations. Someone who cannot show you documentation of eligibility or does not appear in the IRS’s database has either not put in the proper paperwork to be approved, or has attempted to (and been rejected by) the IRS. This is not a person that you should trust with your giving.
  • They try to appear as a more well-known organization. It’s not uncommon for charity scams to try to pass themselves off as a popular charity or an affiliate of a more well-known organization. Callers who identify themselves using a variation on a well-known charity could be trying to use that organization’s reputation for their own ends.
  • They try to pressure you into donating right away. A person who tries to press you into donating immediately is trying to stop you from doing research about their organization. They’re probably trying to stop you because they know you either won’t find anything or you won’t find anything good. Take your time to research possible recipients of your donations and don’t fall for high-pressure scams.
  • They want cash specifically. One of the ways that you can protect yourself from charity scams is to use your credit card for donations. Scammers know this, so they will want to receive cash from you in order to get away with their scam.

The Best Charities to Donate to for the Holidays

The holidays can be a chaotic rush sometimes. If you don’t have the time to research charities in depth this holiday season, here are some safe bets that you can count on.

  • Fisher House FoundationThe Fisher House Foundation helps military families in need. The holiday season is a great time to recognized the contributions of servicemembers and give back to the families of those with loved ones in the military. The Fisher House Foundation is also one of the few charities to receive a perfect score from Charity Navigator.
  • Direct Relief: Giving during the holidays should be focused on improving the lives of others who don’t have as much as we do. Direct Relief is an organization dedicated to improving the health and lives of those in poverty or who are affected by emergency situations. They are another perfect score recipient on Charity Navigator.
  • Doctors Without Borders: This charity has a well-known name and a great reputation. Doctors Without Borders provides medical aid all over the world to those in need, making it a great choice for anyone looking to have a powerful impact with their holiday donations.
  • The Conservation Fund: What better gift to give to your kids than the promise of a good planet, preserved for their future? The Conservation Fund is dedicated to conserving America’s natural landscapes for future generations to enjoy them as much as we do.

Use Your Credit Card to Donate Safely

Outside of investigating charities, there are some things that you can do on your end to make sure that you aren’t the victim of a scam and that your donation goes where you want it to. One good way to donate safely is to use your credit card. Charity scammers are less likely to do the work necessary to accept credit card payments. If you do end up sending money to the wrong organization, it’s much easier to get it back with a credit card chargeback than it is to get cash back after you’ve sent it away.

The holidays are the perfect time to donate in the spirit of giving. Make sure that your donations are going to effective charities that will make good use of your money. Avoid scams and make your donations using your credit card to protect your money and put it to the best use possible.


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Nick Cesare is a writer from Boise, ID. In his free time he enjoys rock climbing and making avocado toast.

This post was updated November 13, 2017. It was originally published October 8, 2017.