”Since you get more joy out of giving joy to others, you should put a good deal of thought into the happiness that you are able to give.” — Eleanor Roosevelt

The note came through an email, “Hi, I’m out of town and wondered if you could help me get a gift card for my son.”

That seemed really odd, so I did what I know to do first — check to see the address of the sender of the email. The name belonged to my friend, but the email did not. I will always help a friend if I’m able and give to a charity if I’m asked and have available funds, but I’ve learned to do my research first.

Giving to charity matters, though, because so many of them do much good, and as Eleanor says, you should put a good deal of thought into the happiness you are able to give.

It’s October, and I’m seeing pink ribbons everywhere. It reminds me of the concern over Pinkwashing. A pinkwasher is considered “a company or organization that claims to care about breast cancer by promoting a pink ribbon product, but at the same time, produces, manufactures and/or sells products that are linked to the disease.”

Pink ribbons are everywhere, and before you and I get all into our feelings about the good thing we are doing by purchasing a pink product or a product with the pink ribbon, we should probably do our research. One of the best suggestions I’ve found is to donate directly to the organization you want to support instead of supporting companies who might be using a ribbon to draw your attention and benefit themselves. We must check things out.

And that’s where I find myself as I know the last couple months of the year are just around the corner and wonderful charities will be hopeful that we will share our dollars to help them through what could be a rough holiday season. We can’t give to every charity, so we need to be sure we give to one or two who represent something that matters to us.

There are a few great sources where you can check out organizations before you donate. BBB Wise Giving Alliance, Guide Star, Charity Navigator and Charity Watch are great places to begin your research. And research is No. 1 on the list of recommended ways to find out if a charity is a) legitimate and b) making good choices with the funds it receives.

After all, if a high percentage of the money raised goes to salaries and fundraising, you might like to find a similar organization that uses more money for programs and education than administrative costs. YOU get to make that choice when you choose where to donate your money.

We know the big organizations asking for donations, but what about the small places? There are organizations in your town needing funding to continue their good efforts in your community. If I am choosing where to put my money, and I have limited funds, I’m going to look around my city or state, unless I have a personal connection to a national or international charity.

But before any of that happens, why not ask yourself the one important question (after you decide if you have money to donate): What causes really matter to me? After all, you might care more about helping fund scholarships for students with limited income and great talent, while I might choose to give my donations to animal welfare or clean water for people in areas without (yes, in America, clean water is still absent in some places).

So, we start there. Before anyone asks you for anything, begin looking to see what groups are out there whose focus matches yours. Check at one of the sites I mentioned to see if the charity is legitimate, if donations are tax deductible (if that’s important to you), and to see how much of their donations go to the mission of the charity — the Wise Giving Alliance recommends that at least 65% of the charity’s donations should go to their mission.

It’s much wiser and easier if you’ve already chosen a charity before other charities choose you. You know how that goes — the phone rings and they say they are the fire something or police something, and they say it so fast that you aren’t sure just what they said, but who wants to say no to helping the police or fire department, right? That’s where you can stop them and ask for more information, like where you could read about what they do.

If they are legitimate, they will understand your concern. If they are not, they will most likely pressure you to make the donation right then. It is your choice where you’d like to donate. Heck, if you love Little League baseball, you might like to donate to the local league, and that’s OK. Side Note: Please do not donate cash or agree to wire money. Using a credit card or mailing a check are much safer options and can be tracked when necessary.

In my town, we have Charity Circle (an organization that basically donates everything they raise to wonderful charities in our town), along with places helping the homeless on many levels, Domestic Violence Shelter, Child Advocacy Center, a children’s science center, and several other worthy and trustworthy organizations. Look around in your own town, and if you need to get the word out about a group doing good things who could use donations, let me know.

Lastly, whether you donate time, money, or items, it is your choice. It’s one of the greatest gifts when we can give to those in need, and we never really know when we might be the ones in need. Whether you choose to give to someone across the globe or someone next door, it’s important that you feel like your choice is the best for you. Need some help investigating who is legitimate? Check with any of the organizations mentioned earlier or contact your state charity officials at https://www.nasconet.org/resources/state-government/.

I hope you and I are feeling a lot more joyful as we find ways to give joy to others in the weeks ahead. There are many worthy organizations and many scam artists, and we have the tools to discover the difference.

Susan Black Steen is a writer and photographer, a native Tennessean and a graduate of Austin Peay State University. With a firm belief that words matter, she writes and speaks to bring joy, comfort and understanding into each life. Always, she writes from her heart in hopes of speaking to the hearts of others. She can be reached at (stories@susanbsteen.com).

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