Whether motivated by rage over the election, guilt about holiday spending or pure altruism – thousands of people are expected to make a donation today, Giving Tuesday.

According to the givingtuesday.org, 700,000 people in 71 countries donated $116.7 million to more than 30,000 nonprofit organizations on Giving Tuesday last year.

We work with so many nonprofits here at Teak and are in a position to learn a great deal about how these organizations operate and what they need. In our work over the years with Marjorie Ringrose, former executive director of Social Venture Partners Boston, we learned how to take the guesswork and frenzy out of charitable giving to make giving matter more.

Don’t Make Giving an Impulse Buy

giving-tuesdayIt may be easy and convenient to make a donation over the phone or throw money into a labeled jar, but making a giving decision too quickly and on an impulse can lead to regret, much like what can occur when making an impulse purchase decision.

Ask the Right Questions

Charity Navigator’s website is a great resource for doing research on organizations. They also recommend visiting or calling charities to ask them the following questions:

  • What is your mission?
  • What are your goals?
  • What is your measurable impact?
  • What sources are available to increase my confidence in your work?

In addition, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office website holds nonprofit tax filings (called 990s and Form PC) as well as audits and financial statements. It’s a good thing if revenue regularly exceeds expenses, there is infrequent turnover in executive staff, and the organization receives grants from respected funders.  And you should only support groups granted tax-exempt status under section 501(c) (3) of the Internal Revenue Code.

It’s also important to know what questions aren’t the right ones to ask. Many people ask nonprofits what percentage of donations goes to overhead. Before using that statistic to judge an organization, consider that it is hard for nonprofits to help anyone without money spent on staff salaries, office equipment and fundraising. Overhead is necessary. No business can run without it, so why are nonprofits expected to? What’s more important is to ask about impact the organization is making. Are they moving the needle? Is the money they are gathering and distributing making a difference? Results are what matter most.

Support Fewer Organizations, but Give Them More

Only 25 percent of us will give to the same nonprofit two years in a row. Inconsistent or erratic support makes it hard for nonprofit leaders to predict revenue and spend their money wisely in ways that ensure long term growth.

Make sure to support the causes that match the interests, values and concerns of you and your family. Consider working on a giving plan for the year, so you can plan the causes and amount you want to spend.  This year, one thing to think about is how the rush to support causes tied to the election may impact other nonprofits.

Donate More Than Money

Money isn’t the only way you can support your favorite organization. Donating your time and expertise could be even more impactful. Two-thirds of nonprofits say they need pro bono help in areas requiring professional skills, such as marketing, human resources, and information technology – all the things any business, for profit or nonprofit, needs to thrive. Volunteering also gives you a close-up view of how donations are spent.

What organizations do you plan to support on Giving Tuesday or throughout this holiday season? Let us know in the comments below.