You’ve Probably Donated Money This Year. Here Are 5 Easy Ways to Keep It Up

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There’s no question about it: Americans are in need right now. Unemployment is around 7.9 percent (not including the hundreds of thousands of women who have decided to temporarily drop out of the workforce) and there are swaths of people standing in line at food banks who have never been food insecure before, thanks to the pandemic. It’s led to millions of lost jobs, sickened nearly 8.5 million Americans, and killed 223,000 people as of press time of this story.

For those who are lucky enough to still have a paycheck, there has never been a better time to donate, especially as nonprofits are dealing with busted budgets as their client load increases and their traditional means of fundraising become more complex during a time where it’s dangerous to meet face to face. 

So, if you have money to donate and you’re eager to get started, where do you even begin? If you’ve been making donations you feel good about this year, how can you budget those in for next year and beyond? How do you ensure that your dollars make an impact on the folks who are in dire need right now? And how do you even go about choosing the right charity? 

To answer these questions, I asked giving experts how to best evaluate where to donate, how to make it a regular part of your routine, and how to be more engaged with the nonprofit community, even beyond when this pandemic mercifully ends. 

Whether you’ve only ever dropped a few dollars into the Salvation Army bucket each Christmas or your family has supported a local charity for decades, here are a few donation strategies to implement during this season of heavy need. Ready for action? Let’s go. 

Determine what geographic reach you want to make

The first donation decision you’ll need to make is whether you’ll go local or donate to a national or even international charity, says Carolyn Ashworth, the director of philanthropy for the Pollination Project, an international nonprofit organization that gives microgrants to grassroots charities. 

Though there’s something to be said about donating to highly established and well-oiled machines such as Susan G. Komen, March of Dimes, or Feeding America, but giving to a local organization keeps your dollars in your own community—allowing you to physically see the impact you’re making. 

“Giving is really personal, but I like to give locally and I like to give when I can have a real meaningful connection to the charity. For me, the authenticity of those personal relationships enriches the experience for me,” Ashworth says. 

Pick a cause you’re passionate about

When it comes to narrowing down the charity you’re going to choose, don’t overthink it: Just go with your gut. What drives you? What keeps you up at night? Is it making sure that children have diapers, puppies have a warm bed, or that a disease your family member is afflicted with is eradicated someday, thanks to cutting-edge research? Identifying your motive for giving is a helpful starting place, says Amy Goodwin, the founder of Mindful Giving, a philanthropic consulting firm. 

“Looking around and seeing the need around you can be a great motivation. A lot of people are also motivated by setting an example for their children while other people might be giving for professional reasons,” Goodwin says. 

If there are multiple charities in your area that fit your area of interest, do your homework and go to reputable sites like Guidestar or Charity Navigator to evaluate their reach, budgets, and how accountable they are to the communities they serve. 

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Make your donations automated

If you’re looking to dedicate a set amount of money to a charity each month, quarter, or year, you shouldn’t rely on your memory to keep up with routine donations (let’s face it: we all have a lot on our minds these days). The best way to help out a charity is to set up automated donations, which are an option at nearly every single nonprofit in the world that has a website, says Ashworth. 

“[Automated donations] are the most helpful strategy of how to give. It’s a chaotic world right now with Covid, race relations, the election, the economy, and unemployment. Nonprofits are being called to serve at a much higher level, and for some organizations, donations are decreasing. Even if it’s a small dollar amount, like $10, $15, $20 a month, it’s helpful for an organization because it’s support they can count on,” she says. 

Monthly donations can give nonprofits the support beyond that fourth quarter of giving between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, which is when about 25 percent of Americans report that they give to charity. 

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Go in with friends

Need some extra motivation? A good way to make your regular donations even more effective is to go in with friends or family to make a larger one-time or recurring donation, which is also known as a giving circle. 

“[These groups] could be, for example, informal groups of young female professionals who get together who have a similar charitable interest or funds they raise for a specific cause,” says Ashworth. 

This is a fun way to not only stay engaged with friends during a time where it’s not safe to go hang out at the bars, but it’s also a great way to start or maintain a relationship with a local community organization. 

Stay engaged and develop relationships 

It’s easy to get discouraged and feel like your individual contributions may not matter in the grand scheme of things, where there are large problems to fix and not enough money to address them. But staying engaged and developing a relationship with the charity that you picked—whether that’s routinely reading their newsletter, keeping up with their social media accounts, or even physically volunteering with them—can help you feel, well, like you’re helping. 

“When I personally give to a charity I feel immediately great about it the minute I press that donate button. I have a good warm feeling. And that’s what we want on both ends. Obviously we want to feel good about our charitable giving. A nonprofit wants you to feel good. The more engaged you are, the more likely you are to support it long term,” Goodwin says.