The leaves are changing, the chill is setting in, and holiday decorations are out. Many of you may also feel this time of year is synonymous with helping those in need. But before you buy that turkey to give to your local shelter, review these 7 tips to make sure your gift has the greatest impact.

  1. Decide which organization or cause you would like to support. There’s an overwhelming number to choose from, so go with a cause you are excited to help. Check Charity Navigator, GuideStar, CharityWatch, Consumer Reports, United Way, or your local association of nonprofits to gain background information on organizations. The criteria varies greatly for each resource so don’t rush to judgment after skimming one profile.
  2. How do you want to help? Are you looking for a fun activity to do with your family like picking out toys for another family in need? Do you want to have a more hands on approach and pack up a truck of gifts for soldiers overseas? Many times you can have the greatest impact by sending a check (with unrestricted funds) to the charity, allowing them to apply the donation immediately where they need it the most.
  3. Ask the organization what is the most difficult for them to fund, then apply all your support to that area. I’ll warn you, it will probably be related to salary and/or operational costs. These responses will not be as charming as buying a tricycle or baby dolls, but again ask yourself what type of donor experience you want.
  4. Check their website or ask for their Wish List. Many organizations have lists of specific and/or reoccurring needs such as toothbrushes, diapers, or hand sanitizer that they will gladly share. You can feel good about giving a gift and the nonprofit receives items that would normally come out of their operations budget. Even if it is not listed, monetary donations are always on the Wish List.
  5. Meet with a leader or board member of the organization and take a tour, if appropriate. Taking time to get to know the organization will open your eyes to ways you can offer support that may never show up on a Wish List. For example, during the tour at an after-school program you learn the gym needs repainted, but they will not be able to afford the labor until next year. You decide to ask your friend, who owns a paint store, to donate the supplies and ask your neighbors to donate their time to get the job done.
  6. Review their most recent Annual Report. Most organizations offer their reports online or with a simple email request. You can learn a lot from this summary and get inspired to be a part of next year’s accomplishments.
  7. Ask about their slow season for donations. Consider planning ahead to give during the time of year when the organization needs it the most. Food banks are always thankful for a frozen turkey around the holidays, but a frozen turkey in July would make them jump for joy. PS: when giving tangible items consider how much storage the organization has, especially related to cold storage or perishable items.

No time to research the items above? You can always give more than once! Give a gift by December 31 to help this holiday season and to receive any available tax deductions, then you create a more detailed giving plan for next year.

For more guidance on impactful giving, please contact Ivy Schneider, President of Helix Strategies, LLC at ivy@helixllc.org and check out www.helixllc.org for information about raising funds and developing your boards and leaders.