The average American donates around $2,500 per year to charity. Wealthy households gift more than $14,000. But if you don't give wisely, not much of that money will make it to those in need.
To make an impact, you need to think about picking the right charity and then making your donation in a way that cuts out fees.
On the first point, check out charity ratings from sites like Charity Navigator and the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance. They evaluate groups on standards such as financial stability and governing practices.
That helps you avoid scams and weed out nonprofits that spend too much on themselves. Aim for groups that spend at least 75 percent of your donation on programs.
But picking the right charity is more than the numbers. A cancer nonprofit might be focused more on research, or patient outreach, or preventive screenings.
Look at programs to see which best fits how you want to give.
To maximize the donation, cut out the middleman. Telemarketers and collectors on the street may get as much as half of what you pledge.
Web sites may take a cut of up to 10% for processing donations and covering credit card fees.
The best deal is still sending a check.
Giving more doesn't always require cash. Donating appreciated stock is one strategy that can result in a bigger cut to your tax bill.
Plenty of charities will accept gently used clothing, furniture and electronics. If you're a smart shopper, think about passing on toys and canned goods purchased for a song.
However you give, just make sure you get a receipt, for tax purposes.