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How to Pick a Charity

The holidays are a natural time to think more about giving and helping others. If you’ve ever donated time or money, you know the feel-good feeling that comes from it. Studies have shown that being charitable does more than help others; it can help the giver too —  lowering blood pressure, increasing self-esteem, and leading to greater happiness and longer life.

But choosing a charity to support from the thousands of them vying for your time and money can be overwhelming and leave you deciding not to choose, instead. Dana Casson, vice president and chief philanthropy officer, OhioHealth Foundation, shares three steps that simplify the process and help you find a charity you can feel good about supporting.

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1. Clarify Your Values

Casson says to start by thinking about what’s important to you. “It’s important to choose something that aligns to you and inspires you. When you connect with an organization or cause, you are able to be a part of that community and give back to something greater,” she says. Maybe it’s reducing hunger, improving education or finding a cure for a disease. Do you want to support work that’s close to home or that reaches people across the world?


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2. Develop a List

Once you pinpoint what’s important to you, make a list of charities that meet your criteria. Casson says organizations you already have a relationship with — a church, a hospital or school, for instance — often top the list.

“It could be lifesaving care a physician and hospital provided you or a loved one,” explains Casson. “Gratitude for an experience and a desire to be part of passing it on to others is a great reason and way to give back. It is more than a feeling — it’s a powerful, positive force for change.”

Casson says you can also look for different charities using a database such as Guidestar.org. The organization gathers, organizes and distributes information on 2.7 million nonprofits in the United States.


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3. Learn About the Charity

Guidestar is a good resource for basic information about charities. The database includes nonprofits recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as tax exempt. You can get revenue and expense information along with IRS forms that outline the organization’s mission, programs and finances.

But Casson says building a relationship with the charity is the best way to learn about it.

“Start by building a relationship with a person from the organization,” she suggests. “They can be your resource for questions and help you understand how the organization will be using your funds.”

Of course, developing a relationship as a volunteer allows you to see for yourself how the organization works and uses its financial and hands-on resources.

Red flags that you may want to direct your donation elsewhere are organizations that don’t deliver what they’re promising to do or are struggling to make budgets. Guidestar says to avoid charities that pressure you or won’t share information. In the end, if you have doubts about a charity, follow your instincts and don’t donate. There’s another one out there you can feel good about supporting.

Philanthropy brings the mission of OhioHealth to life by inspiring support of promising medical research, life-changing medical care, and enriching educational programs, improving the health of those we serve in every stage of life. To learn more or to make a gift to the OhioHealth Foundation, visit OhioHealth.com/Foundation.