The emails, Facebook posts, and Google ads started showing up weeks ago. Just when you’ve made it through the commercialistic mayhem of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and CyberMonday, every cause you’ve never heard of is lined up to appeal to your altruism—or guilt over splurging—on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving.
Like everything else surrounding the start of the holiday season, the hype and noise around the six-year-old concept of #GivingTuesday are overwhelming and intense.
Last year’s iteration saw more than 2.5 million gifts worth an estimated $274 million going to various charitable organizations, according to George Weiner, head of Whole Whale, a tech and data agency that supports nonprofits. This year, Whole Whale expects to see a 21% increase in donations on Giving Tuesday to exceed $330 million.
How do you determine which of the mass of worthy (and not-so-worthy) causes hitting you up for money on Giving Tuesday most deserve your dollars? Or, if you want to participate at all? These seven tips will help you figure out what’s best for you.
1. Seek out what matters most to you
“Giving Tuesday shouldn’t be treated any differently from any other giving decision,” says Sara
“You want your donation to be effective,” she says, “Obviously you want it to go as far as possible, but you also want to make sure that it’s going to an organization that aligns with your values.”
Rather than responding to the plethora of solicitations that some your way, try to be proactive and search for topics that interest you instead.
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Bonus tip: Scroll down past the paid Giving Tuesday ads to get to the results relevant to the topic you’re looking for.
2. Remember local causes
As those paid search-result ads imply, well-heeled national and international causes can dominate in the media and on social media.
To counter this, the folks at the 92nd Street Y in New York who invented Giving Tuesday in 2012 offer a searchable portal to find causes in your vicinity. Also, local groups sometimes band together for the occasion, as 60 causes in the Amarillo, Texas, area do each year via The Panhandle Gives
That’s important because it’s often the causes with the least extra money to advertise that need the most help.
“Everybody under the sun is asking for money at this point in time,” says Beverly Sakauye, chief development officer of the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tenn.
“We don’t have the resources to put into promotion of Giving Tuesday, but it’s so important that we just feel we need to be a part of this giving landscape,” says Sakauye. ” Otherwise, you’re kind of conspicuous by your absence.”
3. Do a little research
Every year, scammers exploit Giving Tuesday to line their own pockets through fabricated causes. That’s why it’s key to head to Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, Global Giving or Guide Star to run searches that enable you to check the credibility and efficiency of non-profits.
“It’s so difficult
She advises that you look for the organization’s 990 forms that most 501(c)3 public charities are required to file with the IRS. That will give you a good understanding of where the money’s actually going, whether it’s going directly towards salaries, administrative expenses, fund-raising expenses or if it’s actually going through the program.
One caution: You don’t want 100% of the money going directly to the program because at the end of the day you want the programs to be run by effective people. Organizations that don’t have the capacity to fund the people running the programs end up suffering,
4. Make yours a double
Before giving, head to Double The Donation to see if your employer matches charity gifts, and for links to the companies’ guidelines. It’s also smart to check on Facebook because the social media giant and PayPal have teamed up to offer $7 million in matching donations for hundreds of causes.
Americares, for instance, has a donor willing to match donations up to $500,000 in an effort to raise at least $1 million on Giving Tuesday— the organization’s “second biggest calendar day for donations, not counting disaster giving,” says Christine Squires, senior vice president
5. No money? No problem!
Everyone’s going to ask for cash donations, but that’s not all they need. Local food banks are happy to take canned goods and other non-perishables.
Americares invites the public to spend the day assembling sanitation kits at their Stamford, Conn., headquarters, Squires says. And countless groups are using the visibility of the day to recruit new volunteers all year round.
6. You can still buy stuff
Kellogg, for instance, plans to auction packages of special-edition Pringles Thanksgiving Dinner crisps, which sold out online in 41 minutes earlier this month, on eBay, to benefit an as-yet unspecified charity. T-Mobile is offering donations to Feeding America three different ways, one of which is via a T-Mobile app that also offers up coupons to Denny’s or Shell.
And Dress For Success, which provides work attire for low-income women, has a microsite, dfspowerpiece.org, where the charity receives 20% of the proceeds when visitors buy high-end products from Bruno Magli, Christian Dior Makeup, Sorel, and others.
“The public go to the site and pick something to buy for themselves, and they would then also help another woman feel empowered,” says Joi Gordon, CEO of the nonprofit.
“We see Giving Tuesday as an opportunity to talk to consumers and to talk to people who are shopping,” she says, “to have them not only think about what you get for yourself.”
7. You can skip it. Really.
As with anything that’s overhyped, many people have a love-hate relationship with Giving Tuesday.
Squires says the occasion has helped inspire people to give because they care about their causes or are impressed by an organization’s good works, not because they hope to get a tax deduction. That’s obviously a great thing.
Mike Sandmel, an organizer with the progressive non-profit New Economy Project, put his solution on Twitter last year, but it still applies: “Want to not feel totally overwhelmed on Giving Tuesday? Set up recurring monthly donations to organizations you care about. It’s better for them and you can mass delete fundraising emails guilt-free.”