The charitable donation requests from mid-November until December 31 are dizzying. My donations always feel haphazardly planned. They are.

This year, I had an epiphany after reading Nicholas Kristof’s New York Times op-ed on his top 2020 non-profits. The editorial helped me pose a simple question: “What are my causes?”

Knowing my causes and sticking with them year-round would allow my family to focus our energy and donations on solutions we genuinely want to support. It also gives us an answer to every charity request.

“I’m sorry, we’ve already picked our charities for the year.” Having this stamped on my heart has been liberating. I feel much more useful and empowered. I can focus on the causes I’ve researched and genuinely want to champion. I can also give more generously.

Charities benefit from your focus, as well. These organizations can count on your donation or your volunteer time, year after year. Plus, talking about your support of their work is the best advocacy they could receive.

I come to this with some experience in the world of non-profits. I’m a journalist and have worked in philanthropic and healthcare public relations for much of my career. I’ve helped educate donors and asked them to give their time, money, land, donated vehicles, and more. I’ve advocated for citizens to donate their marrow, blood, platelets, and the most important gift of all — the gift of their organs upon death. I have researched many worthy causes.

Here’s how to determine what you believe in most. Think about the solutions you feel will improve the world and what organizations are doing the hard work? It may be a mix of global and local causes. Do your research. Ask your friends what they support. It’s a chance to learn what drives them.

These questions can help coax out your deepest beliefs in the world:

  1. Do you have a personal connection to an organization that has impacted you or a loved one? 
  2. What policy matters to you most? These are likely the same beliefs that guide your beliefs in humanity. 
  3. Do you want to volunteer locally or give globally? 
  4. Think of some high-level buckets (Environment, Mental Health, Homelessness, Education, Healthcare, Addiction Support, Arts Advocacy, Animal Aid, Hunger, Racial Justice, Specific Disease Research). Which ones appeal to you most?

Whatever you champion in, give with your full heart. Don’t be afraid to say “no” to something without guilt. Saying “no” frees you up to say “yes” to something you genuinely believe in. 

Did I sort out my own favorite causes? Yes. Some were easy to identify. Others I’ve been interested in but hadn’t researched thoroughly.

  • Education & Mentorship: Education is a solution I always believe in. And experiences like summer camps and mentorship help someone see themself as an important and valued part of this society. Our own children’s non-profit summer recruits children from all backgrounds and income levels, giving them a chance to be in a safe space with people who believe in them for one week. Sponsoring a child’s week at camp is on our list this year.
  • Public Health: Blood donationmarrow registry, and organ donation will always be a part of my giving. This was instilled in me by my parents. My husband and I are both regular blood and platelet donors and registered marrow donors, and we carve out time at the holidays to visit the American Red Cross.
  • Literacy: Providing books to prisoners is a new focus for me. This cause has tugged at my heartstrings and has given me a look into the complicated world of incarceration and education. Providing books and having funds for postage are the priorities of these organizations.

For a good analysis of many organization’s finances, reputation, and giving, look them up on