How To Pick The Right Charity For Giving Tuesday

It’s likely that you’ve heard of Giving Tuesday. It comes right after Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday. We focus on being grateful for Thanksgiving, and Giving Tuesday is really a call for generosity. With everything that we have to be thankful for, there are so many people who are not so fortunate. That’s what Giving Tuesday is all about.


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What Is Giving Tuesday?

So, what is Giving Tuesday? It was first established in 2012 by 92nd Street Y (92Y), a nonprofit dedicated to the people of New York City and the surrounding areas. Their goal was to spark a movement that would celebrate giving. The hopeful side effect was that we’d all learn how to be “smarter” about our giving, and encourage others in our networks to give as well.  

That collective impact agenda for Giving Tuesday was (and is) genius. Even in the first year, Mashable was a founding member. Microsoft, Sony, Aldo, Case Foundation, and others quickly became partner organizations. With coverage from Washington Post, the White House blog, ABC News, and Huffington Post, the founders managed to launch with impressive pizzazz.

What’s even more impressive, though, is how Giving Tuesday has continued to grow and evolve. Last year, it spun into “Giving Tuesday Now,” on May 5, 2020. It was an international effort to inspire giving in the midst of so much hardship around the world. The effort brought in $503 million in the US alone. Then, the “regular” Giving Tuesday event after Thanksgiving involved nearly 35 million people, a jump of 29% over 2019. The total amount donated for 2020 is estimated at $2.4 billion

The current projections for 2021 giving exceed $3 billion, a jump of ~27% over the 2020 fundraising numbers. There’s some uncertainty about how accurate those estimates are though, given the nature of remote work this year, as well as the continued economic uncertainty for so many Americans. 

Still, the search for “Giving Tuesday” has been up by more than 60% over the last few months. It just goes to show how many millions of people in the US and around the world are ready and eager to do good, give back, and make a difference. Junueth Mejia, HIPGive Program Manager for Hispanics in Philanthropy, says, “What we have learned from Giving Tuesday is the resilience and the spirit of organizations and people who do not give up despite the circumstances. ”

What To Look For In The Right Charity

By now, you probably already know why Giving Tuesday is so important. The movement has already made such a monumental difference. The money matters. Your support matters. But, if you’re like me, you also want your support to go to the RIGHT organization. There are so many nonprofits, worthy organizations that have struggled with pandemic conditions as they continue to make a tangible difference in this world. 

With so many charities, how can you possibly pick just one? How do you know you’ve made the right choice? And what do you do when you find out you’ve made the wrong one?


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What Is The Charity’s Focus And Purpose?

Yes, there are lots of worthy causes, but it’s likely your heart is drawn to a few (or even many) select causes that mean the most to you. I’m drawn to a nonprofit cancer-survivor camp my son has participated in for years. But I’m also drawn to causes related to poverty, childhood cancer, suicide prevention, mental health awareness, environmental conservation and protection, human & civil rights, literacy, animal protection, gender equity, community development, and so many more.  

I have no shortage of causes that I support in different ways throughout the year, but I also want to make sure that my giving is responsible and smart. I want to see where my gift is going and know that my donation is fulfilling the goals I believe in. With such a plethora of charity options, I really can refocus my donation to a different cause if I find evidence that my favorite charities are not fulfilling their missions or purposes. 

Do The Programs Match Its Purpose?

One of the first things I do when I consider supporting a cause is ask about what programs they have. It’s great that they believe in something, but we all do. What are they actually doing about it? How do they plan to make a difference with their programs? 

For me, it’s not about what they plan to do in 10 years, although that is important. But what are they doing right now to make a difference? For example, the cancer-survivor camp I support focuses its efforts on offering a camp every year for kids who are currently in treatment or are survivors.

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What About Fundraising?

I also want to know that I’m not the only one who is giving to the organization. If the cause really is worthy, then the organization should have a full cadre of fundraising activities. The pandemic put the kibosh on many “normal” fundraising events over the last year or so. Still, what did they do before that and did they still fundraise even when faced with challenges? 

Nonprofits often operate on shoestring budgets, as they work to devote as many of their resources toward the greater cause. So, part of the question here as well is whether I can volunteer to help ensure that their fundraising efforts are successful. It could be just by sharing on my social feeds or participating in the planning or putting on an event. It’s another way to make a difference and be socially responsible for a cause I care about.

What About Effective Use of Funds?

It’s wonderful to see how your favorite charity raises funds, but how do they spend them? That’s the real question. Consumer Reports highlights how some organizations devote as little as 4% of their budget to programs. So, how does that really make a tangible difference in the people, places, and things you want to protect and help?  

There are organizations that devote some 90% of their budget to admin. And, on the flip side, some orgs spend 90% in direct support of their mission goal and purpose. While that level of support is hard for many charities to achieve, what is their level of real and tangible programmatic support right now? Put faces to the cause. 

The money doesn’t feel like enough, but take a step back and consider: your donation, combined with your effort to encourage others to donate, adds up. So, you need to make sure that the funds are going where they are most needed. Do they make a difference? 

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What About Oversight?

Nonprofits generally have a Board of Directors to answer to; but, if they are unincorporated (with revenue of less than $5k), they’re not required to. If revenue exceeds $5k, the org must apply for a 501(c)(3) and is encouraged to put in place a “governing body” to oversee the charity’s finances and operations.  

The Board offers oversight to ensure that the organization considers all the legal and ethical ramifications of support, activities, and investments. The Board should represent the interests of the people best served by the charity, but it also often incorporates experts in finance, business, fundraising, social services, and health. 

What About Transparency?

 If I believe in a cause, I should just trust them, right? Well, no. There have been lots of important and worthy causes that have been at the center of huge controversies over the last few years because funds were not going where they should have. You might remember our article about the Make-a-Wish embezzlement scandal from earlier this year. 

Yes, greedy people have a way of ruining the reputation of some wonderful nonprofits. But, it’s also not just about bad players in an organization. As you search for full transparency, you may learn that your donation is supporting an event or activity that you vehemently disagree with. It happens, and there’s an easy fix for it. Find a cause with the purpose and convictions of mission that you can put your money behind. 

Which Resources Can Help You Decide?

The good news is that you don’t have to play detective all by yourself. There are lots of resources that are there to help you do your research and learn the truth. My hope is that the causes and organizations you love to support really are as wonderful as you think they are. 

But, if they are not, I hope you will take a second (or third) look at where your money is going. Your goal, I hope, is to make a difference in the causes you believe in. Here are some resources with a bit of information that might streamline your search for a charity you can put your money behind. 

Charity Navigator

Charity Navigator is a watchdog that only rates 501(c)(3) charities that have been around for more than 7 years. The orgs must have raised $1 million in annual revenue, with at least $500k raised from donations. They also require that only 1% of the budget be used toward fundraising activities or admin purposes. 


The approach of CharityWatch is a bit different. They don’t fully explain the factors they use to rate charities, but they do review the organization’s audited federal and state tax forms, financial statements, and annual reports. To achieve an A+ rating on the site, charities must spend the majority of funds (90%) on their programs. They must also avoid spending too much on fundraising effort, with the upper limit set at $4 to raise $100.  


While they don’t rate nonprofits, GuideStar does offer details for 1.8 million U.S. charities, which is accessible with a membership account. You can access the revenue and expenses for this year, Forms 990 for the past three years, the name of the CEO, the Board Chair, and the Board of Directors.

Just because your favorite charity isn’t listed on these sites does not mean that they are not worthy causes. It may just mean that they are not big enough to make the cut. You can still do your own research to determine whether it’s a cause you believe in and can support. 

You can also reach out to your friends and family. Ask which causes they support and why. Don’t stop there, though. Take a closer look at the organizations that have saved your life, offered support and a shoulder to cry on when you needed them the most, and made a difference in your life and the lives of your children. 

Those are the causes you should support. Help them to keep doing the great work that they’ve already been doing all these years. And, if/when the money just doesn’t feel like enough, share your passion and appreciation for your cause(s). Ask others to stand with you in your support. And, volunteer if you can. It’s all part of making a difference for Giving Tuesday.


Which charities do you support? Is Giving Tuesday a regular part of your gift-giving efforts, or do you give throughout the year? We’d love to hear your thoughts on giving in the comments below. 

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