When the world feels so full of problems, it can be hard to know where you should prioritize your giving. What cause needs the most help? Where will your money go the furthest? Which issue needs solving the fastest?
To make sure these questions don’t paralyze you into not giving at all, several industry groups offer guidance. We’ve gathered three lists that each approach the question differently, from the finding trustworthy brand names, to finding the most cost-effective ones, to ones that will pull at your heartstrings.
One caveat is that many of these organizations are large and national or international. With the ultra-wealthy increasingly in charge of which philanthropic priorities get funded, many smaller, local organizations are the ones in most dire need of your cash–and where your cash will make a big difference. Giving to a nearby community foundation may help close that gap, as does actually contacting individual groups in your area to learn more about their work and then giving to them.There’s no universal list for local groups, because every community is different, but to get started, one good resource is this accredited community foundation locator provided by the Council on Foundations.
Big Names You Can Trust
For those looking to donate by cause and ensure it’s a contribution well spent, Charity Navigator, the nation’s largest independent charity evaluator, grades more than a 9,000 charities on their financial health (including what percentage of funding goes toward programs, administrative, and fundraising costs) and good governance practices covering various public accountability and transparency practices. Each nonprofit has to record at least a million dollars in annual revenue and have been in existence for seven or more years. (That includes community foundations!)
“We want donors to feel like they have the information they need to make the best possible giving decision for them,” says Ashley Post, Charity Navigator’s communications manager. “That would be supporting a charity that’s in line with their personal interests…and that they know is responsible.”
The group shares many types of lists, including those with the longest-running record for scoring well. Its database is also searchable by category, and there’s a wide range of specifically cause-centric roundups on its blog (especially if you love kittens). Overall, one of Charity Navigator’s more popular lists is composed of groups that have more than $65 million in assets and spend more than $100 million each year, basically making them household names. Here’s its 10 Best Charities Everyone’s Heard Of to get undecided givers started.
Matthew 25: Ministries: Secures and redirects goods from companies, manufacturers, and hospitals and others internationally to those need.
Direct Relief: Specializes in emergency preparedness, disaster response, and disease prevention logistics and supplies.
MAP International: Christian group that works globally to provide medicine and health supplies to communities in need.
Cystic Fibrosis Foundation: Funds research and development efforts to cure, control, and improve specialized care for those with the disease.
Samaritan’s Purse: Evangelical Christian organization providing international aid through supplies and community development.
Catholic Medical Mission Board: Provides people with healthcare services, and access to food and clean water worldwide.
The Carter Center: Nongovernmental group that resolves conflict, advances democracy, human rights, and mental healthcare, and prevents disease.
Americares: Delivers medicine and aid to those affected by poverty or disasters both nationally and internationally.
The Rotary Foundation of Rotary International: Advocates for cultural understanding and peace through education and anti-poverty efforts.
American Civil Liberties Union Foundation: Protects individual rights and liberties through litigation, advocacy, and educational work.
Most Bang For Your Buck
For those more focused on cost efficiency over specific causes, there’s GiveWell, a nonprofit that publishes its own analysis of charities that can impact the most people per dollar spent. Those organizations operate largely in the global health and development field, in part where inexpensive interventions that control against things like intestinal parasites or malaria can save large numbers of lives and help lift communities out of poverty.
The general philosophy behind this mindset is called effective altruism. “We use four core criteria for assessing charities for potential inclusion on the list, and those are that they are evidence-backed, cost effective, transparent, and in need of additional funding,” says Catherine Hollander, a research analyst with GiveWell. The result is a short but thoroughly vetted list of eight charities and, in some cases, the specific programs that the group recommends backing there. (To donate through GiveWell, and ensure your contribution is earmarked accordingly, you can go here.)
Malaria Consortium, SMC or seasonal malaria chemoprevention program: Saves lives by distributing inexpensive preventative anti-malaria drugs to young children in Africa and Asia.
Helen Keller International, VAS or vitamin A supplementation program: Prevents deaths by supporting government-run efforts against malnutrition that can also cause blindness and other vision issues.
Against Malaria Foundation: Prevents malaria in developing countries through the distribution of low-cost LLIN or long-lasting insecticide-treated bed nets.
Evidence Action’s Deworm the World Initiative: Supports various government and school-led deworming efforts.
Schistosomiasis Control Initiative: A more technically titled deworming support program that works largely with officials in sub-Saharan Africa.
Sightsavers, deworming program: This group works across several different cause areas, but GiveWell specifically recommends supporting their low-cost deworming efforts.
END Fund, deworming program: Another group that works on multiple topics, but has room to scale and grow its parasite treatment efforts.
GiveDirectly: Delivers mobile-based cash transfers directly to the extremely poor families in developing countries.
A Heartwarming–If Unconventional–Approach
The third option is a more empathy-driven and aspirational one. For more than a year, charitable crowdfunding platform GoFundMe has been compiling a hub of its Kid Heroes: Individual fundraisers under the age of 18 who are directing money to people and causes in need. This builds on the site’s strong track record of making campaigns go viral based on personal stories that help donors feel connected to the people they’re helping. Users can choose the campaign, or give to a central fund that’s redistributed.
“With the GoFundMe option, you get this notion of here’s the story, I get to read about it, I get to see how the money’s going to be used, and I know that the money is going to go to that person almost immediately,” says GoFundMe CEO Rob Solomon.
The service has a strong online guarantee in the event anything suspicious happens (something that came in handy earlier this year). It’s also currently promoting holiday drives for various seasonal needs. For Solomon, the idea of backing kids has an added bonus. “You create a generation of changemakers who not only know how to make change, they know how to raise funds, they know how to rally people, they know how to bring communities together, and that’s very powerful,” he adds. (All of those campaigns are listed here.) Below are several that have been recently trending, according to the company.
Help Give Back To Veterans: Tyler, age 7, makes hygiene and grooming kits that include thank-you cards for needy veterans. He works with shelters and is interested in starting his own nonprofit.
Rhymers are Readers #37books: Havana, 7, wanted to fund a black- and female-centric book club for her friends (the 37 refers to a study that shows non-white children have that many fewer books at home). It’s since expanded to do the same for girls in Ghana.
Hot Sauce for Heat: Lev, age 13, started Hot Sauce 4 Heat. He sells homemade hot sauce and donates the proceeds to shelters and nonprofits that help low-income people in Philadelphia afford heating during the winter.
Team Jenny Bean Hospital Care Bags: Jenesis, age 7, is a cancer survivor who distributes moral-boosting care bags with things like socks and coloring books to other kids going through similar treatments. She also gives away handmade beanies.
Three Wishes for Ruby’s Residents: Ruby Kate, age 11, is raising money for low-income elderly people in a government-funded Arkansas nursing home. She hopes to be able to provide them with more life-enriching amenities and experiences.
P.A.W.S. Project: Molly, age 13, launched the PAWS Project, short for Precious Animals, Wonderful Shelters) to help relocate and find new homes for dogs in overcrowded shelters facing euthanasia. She’s helped more than 110 animals and continues to set new goals.
Operation: O2 Fur Pets: Brooklyn, age 12, is a volunteer at an animal shelter in Iowa and is raising money for pet oxygen masks that can help firefighters throughout the state revive animals that can’t be resuscitated without better equipment.
Liam’s Lunches of Love: Liam, age 11, makes lunches for homeless people in his neighborhood in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He delivers them by hand, has expanded to other items like toiletries, and is raising money for a food truck.
St. Bakhita Orphanage: Taylor, age 15, has gained national exposure for hosting many campaigns that have gone viral and empower girls in need. For her latest, she’s teaming up with Havana (mentioned earlier) to help girls in Ghana cover the associated costs of attending public school.