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Check Out Charities: 5 Tips For Choosing A Worthwhile Charity And Getting Involved

Mar 27, 2008
The call to make a positive difference in the larger world around us is heard by millions of people every day. Most of us just put it off because we are understandably busy with our day-to-day lives of surviving and thriving: families, incomes and personal pursuits need to be sustained and nurtured. Still, around the country and around the world, more of us are increasingly answering that call to contribute and make a difference. Once you are ready to answer that call, what is the next step?

There are so many ways to give of ourselves, our money and our time. We can volunteer for a local charity or send money overseas to the needy in faraway lands. When one's heart is in the right place, any act of giving is a worthwhile pursuit. Still, with all of the options available to us, it makes sense that we think carefully about the form our giving will take.

If you are ready to heed the call to make a difference, here are 5 tips that I offer you as guidance in choosing a worthwhile charity and getting involved:

Tip #1: Look inside and ask yourself which issues move you most:

The act of giving is such a personal affair. There is so much need in the world: at least you will not be short on choices about where and how to give. In order to narrow the field of options, I recommend that you start by getting in touch with yourself and asking what moves you most. Is it wayward pets? Starving people? The homeless? The environment? Widespread or rare diseases? While you might want to make a positive difference in many different areas, chances are your time and budget are not limitless. As a short exercise, try filling in the blank of the following sentence, "I would be particularly grateful if I could reduce the suffering of X in the world." Now, whatever X is for you might be a good place to start in your search for an issue to support.

Tip #2: Decide whether you want to donate your time, your money or your stuff:

Just as there are many issues and causes to support in the world, there are also many ways to make things better. In general, these boil down to three main ways to give: your time, your money, or your stuff (i.e., assets and goods). There are advantages to giving away each of these. For example, giving of your time can be a great way to feel more personally involved with your cause, and it is also ideal if you have a particularly limited budget. On the other hand, donating your money or assets can go toward the purchase of food, vaccines, services or other items that you likely cannot personally fulfill merely by donating your time. Also, giving money or assets can in some cases be written off for tax purposes (note: be sure consult with your accountant about how this works and whether your items are eligible).

Tip #3: Make sure the charity is reputable:

Once you have decided upon an issue or cause you want to support and how you plan to give of yourself, it is time to consider candidate charities. The main rule here is to find one that is reputable and that has been evaluated by a regional or national charity review organization. Find each charity's Web site and thoroughly examine its contents, including news items & press releases, the About Us area, and any testimonials that appear on the site. It can also be helpful to ask a charity representative if you may speak with any of its current volunteers and or donors so that you can find out about their experience working with the charity. Finally, ask yourself if their model of giving makes sense to you: do you understand just what it is they do? Be sure you understand exactly how the charity operates and exactly how it adds value to the community it serves.

Tip #4: If you plan to donate your time, find a charity that is in your area:

If you have decided that at least part of your planned act of giving will involve the giving of your time, it makes sense that you would want to find a charity that has a significant presence in your area. National and international charities often have local branches in most populated regions of the country. Of course, regional and local charities are particularly ideal if you want to ensure that they can provide regular and frequent opportunities for you to participate.

Tip #5: Try volunteering for a day to get a feel for whether there is a fit:

Before joining a charity, try volunteering your time for a day to get a sense for the charity and how it operates. Every organization attracts different types of people and each has its own "vibe" or feel. If you plan to give significantly of your money or time to a charity, spending some time with its active members can be a great way to sense whether there may be a fit for you there. If you do so and you do not perceive a fit, keep trying elsewhere: the world needs people like you who are willing to pitch in and help and there are certainly many other charities out there that would love for you to give them a try.

The act of giving selflessly to others is one of the greatest gifts we can give others - and ourselves. When you decide to answer the call to help the world around you, spend a bit of quality time being introspective about your needs and values. Then, spend some time researching the types of causes, ways of giving and specific charities that are best in alignment with your values, interests and life situation. It is my hope that these 5 tips will help you get a bit closer to your goal of giving of yourself in a way that is most beneficial to others and most satisfying to yourself.
About the Author
Visit www.mlfnow.org to find out how to get involved directly or make a donation to Mobile Loaves and Fishes' innovative "Habitat on Wheels" program that provides affordable and sustainable travel trailers to otherwise-homeless tenants.
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