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Imagine for a moment that you’re standing outside of your regional supercenter, readying yourself for a short shopping trip through the long warehouse corridors. Before you have a chance to step through the sliding store, someone calls out to you from their station at a rickety plastic table. They ask for a moment of your time – and proceed to tug on your heartstrings. They paint a picture of their cause by explaining the hardships those they help face; by the end of it, you’re more than willing to give them the twenty you keep folded in your wallet for a rainy day. When you enter the store, you feel lighter. The knowledge that you helped someone carries you through the rest of the morning.


According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, over $258.51 billion dollars were given by individuals in 2014. With this in mind, I firmly believe that most people are fundamentally good and want to help others. However, I can’t say the same for all organizations that claim to provide help to those who need it.  Charitable giving can be wonderful and rewarding – but only if you consider your giving carefully and make sure that your aid is being used productively. Here, I outline a few mistakes would-be givers should avoid when donating.


Ineffectively Providing Goods

Once we hear news of a tragedy, our first response is often to gather up a stockpile of old clothing, food, and other goods we think those in crisis could use. We rush to the nearest drop-off zone and relax, thinking we’ve done our part. But the problem with crisis donations lies in the fact that organizations that spring up in response to short-term situations usually don’t have the means, experience, or structures necessary to effectively handle a mass influx of goods. If you want to donate goods, find a tried-and-tested local organization that you know can make sure that your contribution will be utilized effectively.


Thinking Short-Term

As I mentioned earlier, we tend to spring into action during times of crisis. However, confining charitable giving to desperate times can be problematic; while contributing to a disaster relief fund can be helpful for those affected, it also limits the amount you might otherwise donate to causes you care deeply for. If you want to make a real impact, find a cause you connect with before an emergency occurs and set up a long-term donation strategy.


Donating Impulsively

Never donate to an organization before you’ve vetted it. An organization that seems like it’s doing its all to further a cause on social media and in its heart-wrenching television ads may in fact be keeping the lion’s share of donations for itself. Research every cause before you donate! Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, and the National Charity Report Index are all useful resources for vetting potential donations.


Giving Into Emotional Appeals


Be wary of emotional appeals like the one at the top of this piece! In-person or over-the-phone appeals for funds put pressure on the donor to make a decision in the moment, without leaving time for research or vetting. While some organizations that use this method are legitimate, others use emotional pitches to either keep donations or solicit credit cards numbers for identity theft. Remember, you can still contribute to a cause even if you turn down an in-the-moment appeal and take some time for research.