2017’s Best Charities to Donate to – Holidays & Beyond
Roughly 77% of Americans plan to make a charitable donation by the end of 2017. That’s up from 74% in 2016, when the average household doled out nearly $3,000 for a total of $390 billion in U.S. giving, according to Charity Navigator. And since a significant portion of all charitable donations are made in the month of December, this holiday season looks particularly promising for the countless noble causes in need of support.
’Tis the season for generosity, indeed. But no one wants their money to go to waste. So it’s fair to wonder which charity will make the best use of your donation.
To help you maximize your impact without jeopardizing your financial health, WalletHub’s editors compared more than 100 of the most prominent U.S. charities based on their financial performance, transparency and popularity. And we identified the best organization to donate to for each of the most popular causes.
Here are the best charities:
|Best For…||Charity Name||WalletHub Score (out of 100)|
|Veterans||Fisher House Foundation||98|
|Human Services||Rotary Foundation of Rotary International||95|
|Community Development||The Y (National Office)||94|
|Health||Partners in Health||93|
|Child-Abuse Prevention||Prevent Child Abuse America (National Office)||93|
|International Affairs||Direct Relief||93|
|The Environment||Waterkeeper Alliance||91|
|Homelessness||National Alliance to End Homelessness||90|
|Religion||United Methodist Committee on Relief||87|
|Hunger||Action Against Hunger-USA||86|
Below, you can learn more about how to choose the best charity for your holiday donation as well as how to do the most good on a limited budget. You can also take a closer look at criteria we used to select 2017’s top charities in the Methodology section that follows.
How To Choose A Charity
- Find A Cause First: It’s not about the charity but rather the work that it does. So make a list of the causes you care about most before researching specific organizations involved in that area. This will help you avoid losing the forest for the trees, emphasizing the beneficiary over the conduit.
- Ask For Recommendations: People trust reviews from friends and family above all else, so ask your social network for some charitable suggestions. You may even want to ask subject-matter experts for their thoughts. For example, your veterinarian could suggest a good animal-related charity, and an environmental scientist at your local university could suggest a climate-oriented organization. All of their experiences and viewpoints will undoubtedly help you make a better choice.
- Do Your Research: It’s always important to do your due diligence before spending money with a company, professional or nonprofit for the first time. So check your chosen charity’s website. See how it’s being covered in the press. And look into its financials. In particular, check how much of the organization’s funds are being used for its stated cause compared to marketing and administrator salaries.
- Spread The Love: You don’t have to pick just one charity. Donations are kind of like crowdfunding in the sense that a lot of people giving small amounts leads to relatively large sums at the end of the day. So don’t try to solve one problem all by yourself. Consider giving small amounts to numerous charities in order to help address the various issues that you care about.
5 Tips For A Successful Donation
You don’t need to do much to make an impact on a worthy cause. But keeping the following pointers in mind will help you and your charity of choice make the most out of your good deed.
- Have A Budget: It is indeed possible to be too generous. Donating more than you can afford will only hurt your finances, making it more difficult to give back in the future. That means overdoing it now could reduce your overall giving. So consider your holiday gift-giving budget and your other financial obligations to determine how much you can comfortably afford to do without. It’s fine if you can’t give much. Every little bit helps, and something is always better than nothing when it comes to charity.
- Decide On Itemized Deductions: Rationalizing a donation with the potential tax benefits doesn’t make much sense if you aren’t going to itemize your deductions. So make a decision about that now, and remove taxes from your thought process if you’ll be taking the standard deduction. You can check out our Tax Tips for more insight into making these sorts of choices.
- Consider Processing Fees: Making a donation by credit card is a great way to earn rewards while giving back. For example, you could earn $20 by making a $1,000 donation with a card offering 2% back, whether in the form of cash, points or miles. But many organizations charge a processing fee for credit card donations. That can erode, perhaps even eliminate, your earnings if it isn’t tax-deductible. So make sure to check.
- Earmark Funds For Something Specific: The more you donate, the more control you’ll be able to exert over how the funds are used. So if you want your donation to be used to improve the conditions of the cages in an animal shelter rather than administrators’ salaries or marketing, for example, inquire with your organization of choice about the possibility of designating a donation for something specific. If they say it’s not possible, take your donation elsewhere (or at least make clear that you’re willing to).
- Don’t Forget About Goods & Services: You don’t have to give money to make a difference. You can also donate clothing, food and even your time. A lot of people actually wonder whether it’s better to donate time or money, and we have a handy calculator that can help you make that decision based on your personal situation.
Ask The Experts: Dollars & Cents of Charitable Donations
In search of additional information to inform your charitable giving, WalletHub posed the following questions to a panel of experts. You can check out their bios and responses below.
- What is the biggest mistake that people make when donating to charity?
- What red flags should people look for before donating money to a charitable organization?
- What is your favorite charity and why? // Why should someone donate to your charity?
Scores For All Charities, By Category
|Charitable Organization||WalletHub Score (out of 100)|
|American Bird Conservancy||90|
|Center for Biological Diversity||88|
|Performing Animal Welfare Society||88|
|Animal Welfare Institute||87|
|Wildlife Conservation Society||84|
|CIVIL RIGHTS, SOCIAL ACTION, ADVOCACY|
|American Civil Liberties Union Foundation||90|
|Children's Defense Fund||77|
|Committee to Protect Journalists||77|
|COMMUNITY IMPROVEMENT, CAPACITY BUILDING|
|Center for Community Change||75|
|Food Bank for New York City||71|
|DISEASES, DISORDERS, MEDICAL DISCIPLINES|
|Pancreatic Cancer Action Network||83|
|Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation||81|
|Leukemia & Lymphoma Society||44|
|EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS & RELATED ACTIVITIES|
|Hispanic Scholarship Fund||78|
|ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY, PROTECTION & BEAUTIFICATION|
|Sierra Club Foundation||90|
|Environmental Defense Fund||83|
|Conservation International Foundation||78|
|Keep America Beautiful (National Office)||78|
|FOOD, AGRICULTURE & NUTRITION|
|HEALTH – GENERAL & REHABILITATIVE|
|Semper Fi Fund||97|
|Partners in Health||93|
|Population Action International||76|
|American Sexual Health Association||65|
|Homes for Our Troops||83|
|National Breast Cancer Coalition Fund||66|
|HUMAN SERVICES – MULTIPURPOSE & OTHER|
|The Y (National Office)||94|
|Armed Services YMCA of the USA||85|
|Wounded Warriors Family Support||78|
|Episcopal Relief & Development||72|
|National Urban League (National Office)||72|
|American National Red Cross||70|
|Wounded Warrior Project||25|
|INTERNATIONAL, FOREIGN AFFAIRS & NATIONAL SECURITY|
|Rotary Foundation of Rotary International||95|
|American Refugee Committee||90|
|International Rescue Committee||89|
|World Resources Institute||88|
|Action Against Hunger-USA||86|
|American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee||86|
|American Jewish World Service||86|
|Doctors Without Borders USA||85|
|Save the Children Federation||85|
|International Medical Corps||83|
|Lutheran World Relief||81|
|One Acre Fund||81|
|Helen Keller International||80|
|International Peace Institute||75|
|United States Fund for UNICEF||75|
|Grameen Foundation USA||72|
|New Israel Fund||66|
|Amnesty International of the USA||60|
|Habitat for Humanity International||55|
|Cancer Research Institute||87|
|Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research||85|
|Hearing Health Foundation||76|
|MENTAL HEALTH, CRISIS INTERVENTION|
|Partnership for Drug-Free Kids||76|
|PHILANTHROPY, VOLUNTARISM & GRANTMAKING FOUNDATIONS|
|Ovarian Cancer Research Fund||82|
|Marine Toys for Tots Foundation||72|
|Prostate Cancer Foundation||72|
|PUBLIC, SOCIETY BENEFIT – MULTIPURPOSE & OTHER|
|Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society||87|
|Common Cause Education Fund||82|
|National Military Family Association||77|
|Public Citizen Foundation||67|
|SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY RESEARCH INSTITUTES, SERVICES|
|Salk Institute for Biological Studies||80|
|Girls Incorporated (National Office)||87|
|Boys & Girls Clubs of America||78|
|Action on Smoking and Health||80|
|American Kidney Fund||93|
|Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America (National Office)||67|
|Brain & Behavior Research Foundation||89|
|Catholic Relief Services||78|
|Diabetes Action Research and Education Foundation||75|
|Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International||73|
|First Candle (National Office)||65|
|Fisher House Foundation||98|
|Friends of Animals||71|
|Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind||71|
|National Alliance to End Homelessness||90|
|National Council on Aging||70|
|Prevent Child Abuse America (National Office)||93|
|Starlight Children's Foundation (National Office)||76|
|United Methodist Committee on Relief||87|
To identify the year’s best charities for holiday giving, WalletHub evaluated more than 100 of the highest-ranked U.S.-based charities, according to CharityWatch and Charity Navigator. In the interest of promoting goodwill and spreading holiday cheer during what should be a merry time of year, we did not consider nonprofit organizations with an obvious political affiliation or those focused primarily on a politically divisive issue.
Using the grading rubric listed below, we scored each organization for which ratings were available from both sources from 0 to 100, with 100 being the most trustworthy with your money. Based on the resulting final scores, we selected winners for some of the biggest categories of charitable giving.
CharityWatch Grade (40 points max)
- A+ = 40 points
- A = 35 points
- A- = 30 points
- B+ = 25 points
- B = 20 points
- B- = 15 points
- C+ = 10 points
- C = 5 points
- Below C- = 0 points
Charity Navigator Score (40 points max)
- 97% - 100% = 40 points
- 93% - 96.99% = 35 points
- 90% - 92.99% = 30 points
- 87% - 89.99% = 25 points
- 83% - 86.99% = 20 points
- 80% - 82.99% = 15 points
- 75% - 79.99% = 10 points
- 70% - 74.99% = 5 points
- Below 70% = 0 points
Program Expenses Score* (15 points)
- 85%+ = 15 points
- 75% - 84.99% = 10 points
- 65% - 74.99% = 5 points
- Below 65% = 0 points
*Reflects the percentage of an organization’s total expenses that are used for its stated cause.
Organization Popularity Score (5 points max)
- 500K+ Facebook Likes: 5 points
- 300K – 499K Facebook Likes: 4 points
- 100K – 299K Facebook Likes: 3 points
- 50K – 99K Facebook Likes: 2 points
- 25K – 49K Facebook Likes: 1 point
Fewer Than 25K Facebook Likes: 0 points
Image: Qvasimodo / iStock.
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