The Mint Grad

Giving to charity: When to say yes or no

When you get solicited for money on behalf of a charity, it can be difficult to say no. After all, many requests for donations come with compelling emotional appeals that tug at your heartstrings and your wallet.

While giving feels great and is important,  you should do so strategically and in a way that is financially comfortable for you — especially if you are living on a limited budget.

Luckily, there are some easy questions you can ask yourself to determine if a certain donation is the right move for you.

1. Is this a group or cause that I personally believe in or support?

This may seem obvious, but you should not make financial commitments to any organization or cause whose mission you don’t whole-heartedly support. Yet, this happens all too frequently because relatives, friends and colleagues are doing it. Rather than jumping on the bandwagon for a cause you feel lukewarm about, save your time and resources for an initiative or charity that you feel passionate about.

2. Am I giving because I feel pressured?

Don’t give to a charity because someone is pressuring you to or because you’ll feel guilty otherwise. The same goes for making a donation just because someone pushes your buttons emotionally. Even if someone calls you on the phone or rings your doorbell with an urgent plea for money, you can always say no if you need time to think about it.

3. Can I afford to give?

Another important consideration in giving to charity should be your own financial situation. If you’re struggling to juggle credit card debt, student loans and other bills, it’s probably not economically wise for you to give money at this time.

Even if you feel capable, before you say “yes” to any charitable group, be sure that your donation won’t put you in the hole in the future. A good option may be programs that allow you to contribute a small amount monthly, as long as your budget can accommodate the total annual spend.

4. Have I considered alternative giving strategies?

If giving cash isn’t an option, you can always donate your time and talent to help a charity of your choice. Some groups need individuals with specialized knowledge, such as the ability to mentor others or teach specific skills or languages. Other charities are in constant need of volunteers to help the organization with routine tasks such as getting out mailings or making donor calls. Your willingness to provide your labor and/or brainpower will be welcomed as much as your dollars.

5. Do I have confidence my money will be used properly?

Part of giving wisely and strategically is about trust and accountability. It’s one thing to make a donation to well-known charities, such as the Red Cross or the American Cancer Society. However, you should not hand over money or your personal information to a group that is not familiar to you without first verifying their credentials. A site like Charity Navigator can help you determine if a charity is legitimate and a good steward of donors’ contributions.