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Guide to Holiday Giving

December 17, 2012

Every day closer to the end of December brings another year-end appeal letter to mailboxes everywhere. Year-end appeals are exactly what they sound like. They are letters sent by non-profit organizations at the end of the year and are usually the single largest mailing for an organization and bring in the most money. The year-end appeal, also known as the holiday or Christmas appeal, is often successful because it taps into the giving spirit of the holidays and the practical spirit of donors wanting to make their charitable gifts by December 31st to qualify for tax deductions for the current year.

Whether you're looking to make a first-time charitable gift in honor of a friend or family member for the holidays or are a seasoned philanthropist designating gifts before the year ends, you should make sure your money is being well-spent. Here are some tips from Charity Navigator to guide your giving:

* Do your homework – give to organizations that are on the up and up. Do your homework and make sure the charity is accountable and is getting results. Organizations should be efficient and sustainable in their finances. They should follow good governance practices and be transparent. Organizations should also get measurable results. Check the organization's website and see if they list an annual report; if they do, read it! This will give you a good idea who they are, what they're doing, where they receive money from and what they spend it on. You can also register for a free account on GuideStar and look at their 990 tax forms which will give you information on finances, governance and mission.

* Give freely – most donors like to give for specific projects and purposes because it feels better knowing your money is going directly to feed hungry people than it does knowing it's going to pay someone to administer that transaction. But the truth is that organizations need money for capital, staff, electricity, phones, and post-it notes. There is a cost to doing business and while it's not as exciting to fund that part of philanthropy, it's essential. Unrestricted gifts in the hands of good charities will do more good than designated gifts that can't be supported. If you give to a trusted organization you can feel confident that your gift will go to the area of greatest need and will ultimately support the cause that brought you to the organization in the first place.

* Find the perfect fit – spend as much time thinking about the organization you're giving to as you would thinking about a special gift for a loved one. For every passion an individual has, there is a related charity or organization that needs help. Whether your passion is for animals, the environment, youth sports, families in need, hunger, or anything else, make sure the organization you are giving to is a good match for you or the person you are giving on behalf of.

Take care of those you love this holiday season. Help your community in any way that is meaningful to you and hopefully these simple tips will help ensure your kindness is well received and well spent.