Giving to others simply makes us feel good. Researchers have found that donating to charity makes you happier than spending money on yourself. But what if you aren’t quite sure where your donations are going? When you give, you want to be sure your charitable gifts make the greatest impact possible — and when you aren’t quite sure that’s happening, it’s all too easy to feel stressed out. 

Giving shouldn’t be a stressful experience, though. It should be one that lifts us up. “Philanthropy literally means ‘love of humankind.’ So engaging in it, including making charitable gifts, is an expression of love. Investing your time, expertise, and financial resources in a cause or program that helps someone or something creates a connection to the world, and to your community,” Sarah Harrison, the vice president of philanthropic services at The Denver Foundation, tells Thrive. When you choose to make a charitable gift to a specific cause, there are several steps you can take to ensure your donation is being optimized. 

Ask the right questions

Don’t hesitate to inquire about the details of your donation. “Effective philanthropy grows from thoughtful engagement, so it’s helpful to spend the time doing some research,” Harrison says. Harrison recommends checking in with advisers — whether they are trusted friends who have donated to the same cause, or representatives at the foundation you are working with — and reviewing data about the organizations you wish to get involved with. Moreover, you should have a ready set of questions on hand. Harrison suggests asking yourself if the organization is doing the kind of work you want to support, and asking others, “Who are the leaders of the organization and its supporters?”, “What are its mission, vision, values, programs, financial health, and impact?”, and “How does it connect and collaborate with others, especially the people it serves?” The website Charity Navigator can help answer some of these questions as well.

Identify your values

It is especially important to engage in some self-reflection before you decide to give. That way, you can identify the causes that are most important to you, and choose to focus your time, energy, and giving there. “Making a donation is more than just giving away money; it is an expression of your personal values. We encourage people to think about the values that drive their lives. When you’re committed to equity, innovation, spirituality, compassion — or a host of other values — you have a baseline to use in setting your philanthropic intention,” Harrison says. Take the time to talk to someone close to you who can help you uncover your values, as well as see giving from multiple angles. For example, you might know how important education is to you as a value, but a conversation with a loved one can help you brainstorm specific scholarship funds at a school you attended and trust. 

Create or give to a field-of-interest fund 

If you aren’t sold on a particular recipient, or want your donation to span several organizations, Jane Wilton, the general counsel of the New York Community Trust, recommends donating to a field-of-interest fund. “Field-of-interest funds are dedicated to addressing the donors particular areas of interest such as hunger, education, or healthcare,” Wilton tells Thrive. A field-of-interest fund not only combines your gift with others to make a bigger impact, but also ensures your gift is going where it is most needed. By donating to a broader cause, such as healthcare, your money will be given to the most pressing healthcare problem at the time, and will change accordingly.

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  • Jessica Hicks

    Managing Editor at Thrive

    Jessica Hicks is a managing editor at Thrive. She graduated from Lehigh University with a degree in journalism, sociology, and anthropology, and is passionate about using storytelling to ignite positive change in the lives of others.