Many people want to give to charity – but making such a big financial and ethical commitment is not always easy. This article is designed to help you decide why you want to give, what kind of charity appeals to you and how to go about researching the options. Hopefully it speeds up, and simplifies, the decision making process for you.
If you really don't know where to begin, think about why you are motivated to give to charity.
Who do you want to help?
Do you want to help children, animals, the environment, or improve health or water access in poorer regions of the world? If you know your preferences already, you're in a good place to start researching the options.
If you don't, then begin by thinking about...
...what is important for you?
Not everyone has a clear sense of who they want to help. Many of us see all the suffering in the world and find it hard to pick a cause. Have you had any personal experiences (owning a rescue dog for example) which might help you choose the area you want to give to? Have a good think about what you're passionate about, or maybe there's a cause you feel particularly connected to for religous or moral reasons.
Do you want to give to a large or small charity, a local charity or one that works internationally?
The benefits of small charities
For many people, supporting a small, local or national charity has several benefits. For instance, they feel that their money is able to have a greater impact compared with giving to a larger organisation. Similarly, they may find smaller charities easier to build a strong relationship with, enabling them to feel closer to the cause. For others, the cause they want to support may be so niche that only a small, local charity may work in that area. So, if your cause is specific this may be the way to go.
...and the benefits of larger ones
Larger charities with international profiles offer different benefits for donors. By virtue of their wider reach, you may feel that you're able to part of something that has a larger impact. Often, such charities have strong reputations and vigourous monitoring and evaluation procedures in place. This may appeal to you if you want to make sure your money is being spent how you want it to be spent.
Small or large, the decision is yours! It's easier to narrow down your internet search based on your preference too - simply use terms like 'small dog charity in Lincoln' or 'international children's charity' depending on what you prefer.
If international work is something that interests you, do you want to give to a charity that does long-term work, or one that helps in the aftermath of an emergency or disaster?
Emergency relief charities
There are also charities with an international reach who focus on emergency relief and short-term aid for communities devastated by things like natural distasters - such as the recent Nepal earthquakes - war, famine and drought. These charities offer vital services to the people they help, providing food, water, first aid and shelter and often saving lives.
Long-term development charities
Many international development organisations have been operating overseas for decades and offer long-term, sustainable development programmes. Such programmes are well-integrated within local communities, often operating in collaboration with local partners. They try to address many of the deep-rooted problems that perpetuate cycles of poverty.
Many charities do both long-term development work and emergency relief, so if you can't decide which you'd rather give to, pick one of these.
Got a better idea of what you're looking for now? Good. Then it's time to start some online research.Once you have a clearer sense of what you're looking for, it’s time to get searching for a specific charity. The internet is definitely the best resource for finding out information about a wide-range of charities.
Here's our step-by-step guide to collating the information you need to make an informed decison:
Use search engines
Begin by researching lots of different charities. Use search engines like Google, Yahoo or Bing. Type general terms that relate to the particular charity sector that interests you, such as 'animal charities' or 'help an animal in need', into the search bar and click the links of the top 10 sites that appeal to you. Feel free to look beyond the first page of results!
Collate and compare the basics
Create a document - it can be on your computer in a Word document, or simply in a notebook - where you can record information about these 10 charities. Focus on recording basic facts like exactly how they help, where they help and the scale of their help.
Then, make a note of how they say your money will be spent and any other things that are particularly important to you. Having a set of clear criteria about what you want and recording information in this way will help you compare your options quickly and effectively.
Look at the detail
Pick your top three charities based on how they meet your basic criteria and then do some more detailed research.
If financial credibility is important to you, look them up on the Charity Commission's website and look at how they spend their money - we have a page of top tips for checking a charity's financial integrity which is well worth checking out.
If certain values or religious affilations are important to you then take a look at different mission statements/ statements of purpose. Put simply, what is their reason for doing what they do? Pretty much every charity will have something addressing this on their website. You can usually find it on their homepage, or in the About Us section..
Giving charities a quick ring to find out more, or requesting an information pack/leaflet is also a useful way to get a better feel for the organisation. Ultimately when you start giving to a charity you are entering into a relationship and it is important that you feel 100% comfortable, so doing your homework really is a must!
Once you’ve decided where you want your money to go, it’s time to make sure that your money is going to be used well. Read our tips for checking the financial transparency and integrity of charities.