blue homemade charity contribution box with "DONATE" printed on side

Debt-Free for the Holiday

While you are reining in your end-of-year spending, one place you ideally won’t have to cut back is in your charitable giving and donations. The vast majority of non-profit organizations get a huge surge of donations, often more than half the annual giving, in the final weeks of the calendar year. It makes sense–most of us wait to see how much we can responsibly give and be sure we do it before the Times Square ball drops and everybody sings “Auld Lang Syne” (so the tax deductions for charitable contributions are still valid for the year completed).

Give as generously as you comfortably can–it truly matters to organizations doing amazing work.

Part of your comfort level with giving is not just based on your personal bank balance, but on the reliability and legitimacy of the work being done by the 501(c)3 non-profits to which you donate. Many people give to the same organizations every year, but exploring new good works is also tremendously rewarding.

Global tragedies and natural disasters bring out the best in us as we want to help, but these situations can bring out the worst in some (by no means all) new “charities” looking to capitalize on your good will (and abscond with your dollars). Even the best-intended charities with long histories can get top-heavy over the years, with more of our donations going to executive salaries while less goes to the mission of the organization. Trusted charities and faith-based organizations can lose their way over time, so keeping an eye on their performance is just as important as looking into a new potential group worthy of your donation.

Here are a few links to tools…some websites and some apps you can load…that make the choosing of charities a less daunting task. It shouldn’t be hard to do some good! There are, of course, many more you can discover…

CHARITY NAVIGATOR: (website and app) America’s largest and most trusted charity evaluator, they rate thousands of charities for how well they do what they say they are going to do. It is a perfect starting point for you to explore the groups you think you know, and discover new ones dedicated to the same causes that inspire you.

GLOBAL IMPACT: (website) helps you connect charities you love to your employer’s corporate giving programs for possible donation matching and extending your support.

BETTER BUSINESS BUREAU: (website and app) One of the most trusted resources to help you locate and support non-profit causes of your choice. We think of them only rating and tracking praise or complaints for for-profit businesses, but they do the same for charities.

ONE TODAY: (Google app) Spotlights one new charity every day, and makes it simple to donate one dollar each day, if you choose. Great way to discover new allegiances.

INSTEAD: (app) A micro-giving app that lets you look at equivalencies in your life…”instead of a cup of coffee today, I can donate three dollars to clean water in an African village…”

I CAN GO WITHOUT: (app) Micro-loan app, choose charitable giving over daily habits we don’t really think about or care for…

…and to help you keep it all organized at tax time…

TURBO TAX / IT’S DEDUCTIBLE: (website and app) Part of the popular tax filing suite of tools, the “It’s Deductible” app makes it easy to track donations year round and also assign value to material donations if you’re giving clothing, household items, etc. and then imports directly into reports for tax filing.

I DONATED IT: (app) Tracks your non-cash donations to charity to help you at tax time.

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About The Author

Andrew Mersmann's picture

Andrew is the author of Frommer's global guide to volunteer vacations, "500 Places Where You Can Make a Difference" (Gold Medal Winner from Society of American Travel Writers: Best Guide Book 2010). He spent more than a decade on the editorial team of PASSPORT Magazine. He has volunteered and led teams on service projects around the world, and is honored to be on the boards of directors for the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation ( and Mentor Artists Playwrights Project ( Mersmann has been a featured speaker, interview guest, or moderator on several travel talks, from the New York Times Travel Show, Smithsonian Associates, and the 92nd Street Y-TriBeCa to Oprah and Friends, Animal House, and The Focus Group on satellite radio as well as on NY1 television. Past participant at the Clinton Global Initiative and judge for Condé Nast World Changers Conference, he blogs about volunteering and service travel at As part of the evox television team, he is dedicated to audience engagement, so if you're not engaged, he needs to be thumped on the head (gently)...or at least told (nicely). Twitter: /ChangeByDoing

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