Every year, Americans contribute billions of dollars to nonprofit organizations, whether within their own communities or on a global scale. This financial support is vital for these nonprofits to fulfill their missions.
However, it’s crucial to ensure that your donations are utilized as you intend. Before making a charitable contribution, take a moment to familiarize yourself with how your money will be allocated.
3 Things to Consider Before Donating Money to a Charity
Whether you have the financial means to contribute or simply have a deep conviction for a particular cause, it’s crucial to assess the charity beforehand.
Are your donation funds predominantly directed toward a meaningful cause, or are they primarily absorbed by administrative expenses?
You naturally aim to maximize the impact of your contributions. Here are some pointers to assist you in achieving that goal.
1. Make Sure You’re Donating to a Legitimate Organization
It’s always advisable to investigate a charity’s details by referring to a reputable watchdog platform such as Charity Watch or Charity Navigator.
On these platforms, you can conduct a search for the organization and access information such as its address, mission statement, tax filing status, and a breakdown of total expenses compared to total contributions.
Additionally, Charity Watch provides insight into the cost incurred by the charity to raise $100, which can serve as an indicator of the organization’s efficiency or inefficiency.
Both Charity Watch and Charity Navigator employ rating systems, with Charity Watch assigning letter grades like A, B, or C, while Charity Navigator uses a one-to-four scale to evaluate organizations.
2. Know Where Your Money Is Actually Going
You certainly don’t want your hard-earned money to wind up in someone else’s pockets unless that’s precisely where you intended it to go.
To gauge where your funds are allocated, consider examining the program efficiency or expense ratio. Higher efficiency ratios are indicative of a charity’s effectiveness in delivering services aligned with its mission.
As a general guideline, the most efficient organizations typically allocate a minimum of 75% of their budgets to programs and services, with the remainder dedicated to administrative and fundraising expenses.
Determining this spending ratio is straightforward. Visit Charity Watch and look up the organization in question. You’ll find a “program expense ratio” that reflects the total expenses directed towards programs in relation to overhead costs.
3. Take Note of the Group’s Nonprofit Status for Your Taxes
When you decide to make a donation, it’s prudent to check if it qualifies for a tax deduction. This can be especially important to some donors because donations eligible for deduction can reduce taxable income, essentially shielding them from taxation.
To determine the tax status of your financial contribution, investigate the charity’s classification. You can locate an organization’s tax status on Charity Watch or Charity Navigator. Alternatively, you may find this information on the organization’s official website, the IRS website, or GuideStar.
The two most common tax statuses for charities are 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4). Contributions to 501(c)(3) organizations are typically tax-deductible, whereas those to 501(c)(4) entities are generally not.
Therefore, if you’re seeking a tax advantage, it’s advisable to seek out a 501(c)(3) organization before making your donation.
Keep in mind that you can only claim charitable donations if you choose to itemize your taxes. However, it’s worth noting that most Americans opt for the standard deduction. For the 2023 tax year, the standard deduction amounts to $13,850 for individuals, $27,700 for married couples filing jointly, and $20,800 for heads of household.
In practical terms, your deductible expenses, including charitable contributions, must exceed $13,850 (or $27,700 for joint filers) to capitalize on the tax benefits associated with charitable giving. For many individuals, this threshold may not apply.