The most fulfilling giving really comes from identifying your values, beliefs and passions and finding a charity that fits you personally.
The end of 2011 is approaching, which means it's time to gather with loved ones, eat more than we should and break out the checkbooks for some charitable giving.
About 41 percent of charitable donations are made between Thanksgiving and New Years, according to a new survey from Charity Navigator. About 10 percent roll in during the last 24 hours of the year.
To make the most of your last-minute gifts, experts suggest you hang up the phone on that friendly fundraising representative and bypass the woman on the street corner soliciting donations with a bucket and a bell. Take some time, instead, to do a little research.
"When people give as a knee-jerk reaction, that's when they're most likely to make a misstep and give to a charity that's not actually a charity or isn't using the money for intended purposes," said Sandra Miniutti, vice president of Charity Navigator. "It's great to be proactive rather than throwing money at whoever has their hand out at the supermarket."
The first step toward smarter giving is identifying what's important to you.
It's easy to donate to the largest, most well known charities, said Shannon Toronto, COO of The Philanthropy Roundtable, a national network of individual donors, corporate giving officers and foundation trustees. But, she points out, "the most fulfilling giving really comes from identifying your values, beliefs and passions and finding a charity that fits you personally."
Once you've selected a cause you can get behind, Miniutti recommends donors check out a charity's financial health and ethical practices.
"Donors always want to make sure they are getting the biggest bang for their buck — and that's great," she said. "But it's also important to make sure a charity has a good conflict of interest policy, a whistle blower policy and an annual audit. Charities that have these best practices in place are less likely to get tangled up in scandal."
To get financial information about charities, including how much CEO's are paid and the percentage of money that goes to administrative expenses, check out websites like charitynavigator.org and guidestar.org. These sites also have searchable databases that rate many nonprofits on ethical practices.
Miniutti also suggests asking nonprofits for statistics measuring impact on the community. If the nonprofit is local, consider taking a tour or volunteering to get a feel for what the charity does.
"You want to get some data beyond that heartwarming story that tugs at your heart," she said.
To get you thinking, the Deseret News teamed up with philanthropy experts to brainstorm a list of worthy nonprofits that are working to address issues we think are important: family, financial responsibility, care for the poor, excellence in education, faith and values in the media. Take a gander, maybe you'll find something that inspires you, too.
The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption
Built around the idea that every child deserves a loving family, The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption works aggressively to break down stereotypes about adopting children from the foster care system and match children up with parents. Since it was founded in 1990, the foundation has found more than 2,500 children permanent homes.
For more information, visit davethomasfoundation.org.
With in-home and community support services, Boys Town uses research-proven methods to help at-risk youth and strengthen fragile families. The program helps 31,000 children and families annually.
For more information, visit boystown.org.
Junior Achievement empowers young people to take ownership of their economic future through hands-on programs promoting entrepreneurship, work readiness and financial literacy.
For more information, visit ja.org.
The Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship
Founded by a math teacher turned entrepreneur, The Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship works with educators in high-need schools to engage students in learning, introduce them to business concepts and prepare them for economic success.
For more information, visit nfte.org.
Care for the Poor
Mentors International helps impoverished people in the Philippines, Guatemala, Peru, El Salvador and Honduras to achieve self sufficiency through entrepreneurship. With micro loans as small as $185, the nonprofit has helped people start tailoring businesses and plant farms to feed their families. Recipients are matched with a mentor and are required to repair their loans.
For more information, visit mentorsinternational.org.
Lowell Bennion Community Service Center
The Lowell Bennion Community Service Center at the University of Utah has its hands in more than 50 projects addressing issues like education, social justice and health. The center supports local nonprofits in their endeavors by supplying volunteers while giving college students opportunities to serve.
For more information, visit bennioncenter.org.
Ballard Center for Economic Self-Reliance
At the Ballard Center for Economic Self-Reliance, Brigham Young University students, faculty and practitioners work to develop pattern-breaking social innovations to address today's most vexing social problems.
For more information, visit marriottschool.byu.edu/selfreliance
Excellence in Education
Teach for America
Teach for America recruits the best and brightest recent college graduates to teach in low-income schools all over the country. During the past 10 years Teach for America has spent working in New Orleans, the percentage of children scoring at or above basic on statewide tests has increased from 30 to 53 percent.
For more information, visit teachforamerica.org.
KIPP, which stands for the Knowledge is Power Program, is a national network of free open-enrollment schools designed to help children in under served communities prepare for college. Studies show children who attend KIPP schools outperform similar students in more traditional public schools.
For more information, visit kipp.org.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty
A nonprofit law firm engaged in the fight to protect religious liberty, The Becket Fund exists to vindicate a simple but frequently neglected principle: that because religious impulse is natural to human beings, religious expression is natural to human culture. Among other things, lawyers from The Becket Fund are currently defending the use of the term "Under God" in the pledge of allegiance.
For more information, visit becketfund.org.
Ethics and Public Policy Center
The Ethics and Public Policy Center is a nonprofit think thank that seeks to clarify the ways moral principles shape the choices political leaders must make in American democracy. With the understanding that real education and insight occur only when all sides are represented, the center educates journalists and encourages dialog between the religious and the political.
For more information, visit eppc.org.
International Center for Law and Religion Studies
The International Center for Law and Religion Studies at Brigham Young University is a tireless defender of religious freedom — a principle under serious attack today. The nonprofit influences policy formation through timely publications, conferences and government consultations.
For more information, visit www.iclrs.org.
Values in the Media
Wedgwood circle is a national network of high net work investors, foundations and cultural gatekeepers that supports the development of "good, true and beautiful" film, music, television, theatre, fashion, fine arts, comics and video games. Donors can get involved on two different levels: by becoming a member of the network or donating to a patron fund that gives grants to artists.
For more information, visit wedgewoodcircle.com.
With projects like BYU TV, KBYU and Classical 89, BYU Broadcasting seeks to engage and inspire audiences through educational and uplifting programs.
For more information, visit byub.org.