For the 38th time in the past 40 years, charitable giving increased year over year in 2018, according to Giving USA. Americans donated a total of $427.71 billion – nearly $292 billion of which came from individual donors. Forecasts call for a further increase in charitable giving in 2019, when the final figures are tallied, but much depends on how generous we feel this holiday season. ’Tis indeed the season for generosity, as a significant portion of all charitable donations are usually made in the month of December.
There is no shortage of noble causes in need of support this year. 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 to donate to:
|Best For…||Charity Name||WalletHub Score (out of 100)|
|Human Services||Rotary Foundation of Rotary International||100|
|Veterans||Fisher House Foundation||98|
|International Affairs||World Resources Institute||98|
|Health||Semper Fi Fund||97|
|Hurricane Relief||Direct Relief||93|
|The Environment||Conservation Fund||90|
|Child-Abuse Prevention||Prevent Child Abuse America (National Office)||88|
|Community Development||Wounded Warriors Family Support||88|
|Hunger||Action Against Hunger-USA||87|
|Homelessness||National Alliance to End Homelessness||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 2019’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)|
|Center for Biological Diversity||90|
|Performing Animal Welfare Society||88|
|Animal Welfare Institute||87|
|American Bird Conservancy||85|
|Wildlife Conservation Society||84|
|CIVIL RIGHTS, SOCIAL ACTION, ADVOCACY|
|American Civil Liberties Union Foundation||95|
|Committee to Protect Journalists||73|
|Children's Defense Fund||62|
|COMMUNITY IMPROVEMENT, CAPACITY BUILDING|
|Food Bank for New York City||61|
|DISEASES, DISORDERS, MEDICAL DISCIPLINES|
|Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation||97|
|Pancreatic Cancer Action Network||78|
|Leukemia & Lymphoma Society||69|
|American Heart Association||45|
|American Cancer Society||30|
|EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS & RELATED ACTIVITIES|
|Hispanic Scholarship Fund||88|
|Step Up for Students||51|
|ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY, PROTECTION & BEAUTIFICATION|
|Sierra Club Foundation||90|
|Conservation International Foundation||84|
|Keep America Beautiful (National Office)||78|
|Environmental Defense Fund||69|
|FOOD, AGRICULTURE & NUTRITION|
|HEALTH – GENERAL & REHABILITATIVE|
|Semper Fi Fund||97|
|Population Action International||85|
|Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation||84|
|Partners in Health||83|
|Planned Parenthood Federation of America||75|
|American Sexual Health Association||40|
|Homes for Our Troops||83|
|National Breast Cancer Coalition Fund||66|
|HUMAN SERVICES – MULTIPURPOSE & OTHER|
|Wounded Warriors Family Support||88|
|The Y (National Office)||84|
|Armed Services YMCA of the USA||80|
|Episcopal Relief & Development||77|
|National Urban League (National Office)||72|
|American National Red Cross||70|
|Wounded Warrior Project||30|
|INTERNATIONAL, FOREIGN AFFAIRS & NATIONAL SECURITY|
|Rotary Foundation of Rotary International||100|
|World Resources Institute||98|
|Doctors Without Borders USA||90|
|Action Against Hunger-USA||87|
|American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee||86|
|International Rescue Committee||85|
|One Acre Fund||82|
|American Jewish World Service||81|
|International Peace Institute||81|
|Lutheran World Relief||76|
|Helen Keller International||75|
|United States Fund for UNICEF||75|
|International Medical Corps||73|
|Save the Children Federation||70|
|Habitat for Humanity International||60|
|Grameen Foundation USA||57|
|New Israel Fund||52|
|Brother's Brother Foundation||45|
|Feed the Children||43|
|Amnesty International of the USA||40|
|Operation Blessing International Relief & Development||35|
|Cancer Research Institute||87|
|Hearing Health Foundation||86|
|Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research||85|
|Breast Cancer Research Foundation||82|
|Dana-Farber Cancer Institute||54|
|MENTAL HEALTH, CRISIS INTERVENTION|
|Partnership for Drug-Free Kids||76|
|PHILANTHROPY, VOLUNTARISM & GRANTMAKING FOUNDATIONS|
|Gary Sinise Foundation||94|
|Ovarian Cancer Research Fund||82|
|Marine Toys for Tots Foundation||73|
|Prostate Cancer Foundation||63|
|United Way Worldwide||53|
|PUBLIC, SOCIETY BENEFIT – MULTIPURPOSE & OTHER|
|Common Cause Education Fund||83|
|National Military Family Association||73|
|Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society||72|
|Public Citizen Foundation||38|
|Girls Incorporated (National Office)||87|
|Boys & Girls Clubs of America||73|
|SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY RESEARCH INSTITUTES, SERVICES|
|Salk Institute for Biological Studies||75|
|Fisher House Foundation||98|
|Catholic Relief Services||89|
|Prevent Child Abuse America (National Office)||88|
|American Kidney Fund||88|
|Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International||88|
|Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America (National Office)||87|
|National Alliance to End Homelessness||86|
|National Council on Aging||82|
|Diabetes Action Research and Education Foundation||80|
|United Methodist Committee on Relief||80|
|Brain & Behavior Research Foundation||79|
|Starlight Children's Foundation (National Office)||76|
|Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind||71|
|Boy Scouts of America||69|
|Friends of Animals||36|
|Action on Smoking and Health||35|
|First Candle (National Office)||30|
|Make-A-Wish Foundation of America||25|
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
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