Despite the recent economic turmoil, Americans have continued to display an altruistic streak, donating billions of hard-earned dollars to noble causes each year. For instance, in 2011 – the most recent year for which data is available – roughly 88% of consumers bequeathed a combined $298.3 billion to charity, according to a Giving USA report. And while the cynics among us will chalk that up to the accompanying tax benefits, it doesn’t really matter as long as the money is being put to good use.
But that’s the crux of the issue: How can we make sure our charitable donations actually get to those who truly need the money, rather than executives’ pockets or, worse, fraudsters?
Charitable Giving in the Era of the Great Recession & Social Media
There has been no shortage of charitable impropriety in recent years, ranging from allegations of misdoing by celebrities like Wyclef Jean and Lamar Odom to scams tied to natural disasters like the recent tornadoes in Oklahoma and even terrorist attacks like the Boston Marathon bombings. In short, it seems that the modern, social media-driven charity landscape has created something of a double-edged sword for the benevolent among us – enabling people to respond quickly and en masse when needed, yet leaving us perhaps more susceptible to shady folks who want to make a quick buck off our good intentions.
The resulting importance of carefully targeted giving becomes even more apparent when you further consider just how many truly worthwhile causes there are out there as well as how little most of us can spare in the wake of the Great Recession. Not only does unemployment continue to hover around 7.6%, but the average household also has more than $6,500 in credit card debt and we’re on pace to add $46.7 billion to our overall tab in 2013, according to CardHub data. That would bring the total amount of new credit card debt incurred since 2011 to roughly $130 billion by year’s end.
We therefore turned to experts on charitable giving, fraud, and the economy for tips on how to maximize the impact of our giving in this day and age. You can check out what they had to say below.
Expert Opinions: Getting the Most Bang for Your Charitable Bucks
From the expert insights provided above, we can glean a few “best practices” when it comes to charitable giving in the modern landscape:
- Before giving to a particular organization or cause, it’s important to do a bit of background research in order to evaluate legitimacy and determine how donations will be used.
- There are a number of useful resources available to charitable givers, including organization-specific rankings and background information from Charity Watch, Charity Navigator, and the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance.
- Large, established charitable organizations tend to be the safest bets because there is a multitude of publicly available information about them and examples of impropriety will be easy to find.
- Pop-up charities, particularly those tied to current events, should be viewed with the most skepticism.
- People can significantly decrease the odds of falling victim to a charity scam by simply not making donations over the phone, online, or in response to unprovoked requests.
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