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Giving to charity in lieu of, or in addition to, a traditional holiday gift has a lot going for it.
It restores the idea that the holidays are about caring for and helping others. And it’s a simple and elegant alternative to finding a gift for that person who has everything.
But there are some factors you might consider before choosing that option.
Make sure a donation is what the person wants. Not everyone will be happy with a charitable donation made on their behalf, especially if they’re expecting a traditional gift. Consider asking in advance, even if it spoils the surprise.
Choose the right organization. If your gift recipient is interested in animal rights, it may not be enough simply to give to just any animal rights organization. He or she may have a favorite group. Again, ask in advance.
Research groups. Some charities carry out their missions better than others. Indeed, some groups do pitifully little good with the money they receive, and others are outright frauds.Charity watchdogs can help you separate the good from the bad, at no cost to you. They include Charity Navigator, the American Institute of Philanthropy and the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance. (The BBB recently announced it would relax one aspect of its standards on charities' financials to take into account the recession’s impact on many charities’ bottom lines.)
Two organizations that focus on Christian groups are Wall Watchers’ MinistryWatch program and the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. MinistryWatch ranks Christian charities; the ECFA provides accreditation to groups that meet its standards.