In recent years, there have been many causes to step up for and support. We’ve been asked to donate to disaster relief efforts to support victims of hurricanes and wildfires, organizations like Planned Parenthood, Ukraine rescue committees, women’s organizations, and nonprofits that benefit people of color and the LGBTQ community.

Given all there is to support out there, many of us have given what we can to whomever seems to need our help at the moment. Five dollars here. $10 there. Maybe even a big chunk of change when it is financially viable for us. But is this the right way to give back? Can we make more of an impact if we concentrate our focus on specific charitable industries and consolidate our dollars — and volunteer hours — there? As we near the end of 2022, a time when many people are focused on giving back, here’s a look into the pros and cons of more concentrated giving — and advice on how, if you are able to give, to make sure you and those to whom you are donating are getting the most out of your charity.

Giving back in a more focused way

Some philanthropy experts say that focusing your efforts can result in quality versus quantity. “Let’s say you have $1,000 to give. Giving to one organization may allow that organization to fully support a family, classroom, medical need, etc.,” explains Monique Curry-Mims, a philanthropy expert and the principal and founder of Civic Capital, an international Black women-led social impact firm based in Philadelphia. While giving to 10 nonprofits allows the donor to say they support several charities and nonprofits, that $100 per organization, she says, can only go so far — “from the possible admin fees to the programmatic and overhead costs they actually need to pay for, smaller, spread-out donations may not have the impact they were intending to have.”

Additionally, most of the time, smaller donations are onetime donations, which means a nonprofit can’t form the relationship with the recipient that they need to grow gifts and become more sustainable. If you are giving to a specific organization that aligns with your priorities and cause, on the other hand, this allows you to get directly involved in your community and see the impact of your efforts, and allows you to establish a relationship with the nonprofit, and possibly that community at large, for greater, more concentrated impact.

Another advantage of focused philanthropy is that it allows you to concentrate your attention on issues and causes that are most important to you. “You might think, ‘I care about several issues’ or ‘I want to support several nonprofits in a certain cause,’ but really focusing on those that align with your values and those you can commit to really matters,” says Curry-Mims about how to make a deeper impact. And in a world where there are constant causes to support, focusing on the issue you care most about, and then the nonprofit or nonprofits that support those causes, can go a long way and help you feel less overwhelmed.

a hand holding a bowl to receive a portion of soup from a smiling volunteer

In a world where there are constant causes to support, focusing on the issue you care most about can go a long way and help you feel less overwhelmed.

Vladimir Vladimirov//Getty Images

Benefits of spreading the love around

While focusing your efforts has its perks, there are definite benefits to spreading your donations around. For instance, saying you are only going to support a cause that benefits one issue, like women’s rights, may pigeonhole you into avoiding helping out when natural disasters occur, donating to a friend’s charitable Facebook initiative, or giving back when there is something happening in the news that you want to support. In addition, “when you narrow down your giving strategy, you ultimately have to leave some causes/nonprofits out that you care about, so that narrowing can be difficult for some,” says Andi Thieman, founder of the social-good venture PennyLoafer. ] “And facing the prospect of denying support to one treasured cause in favor of another could be emotionally difficult.”

“Also, many charities are perfectly content receiving smaller monthly donations if that allows them to develop new relationships with new donors,” says John Bromley, founder and CEO of Vancouver-based Charitable Impact, a Canadian donor-advised fund. While you may not be able to give as much to a single organization if you spread it around, giving small amounts to several causes means that you’re still providing funds that a nonprofit can use for something, whether it’s one meal for a family in need or a tutoring session for an underprivileged teen.

Another thing to note is that giving to a specific cause or organization doesn’t always narrow the impact of one’s giving. “For example, numerous studies show that investing in women and girls lifts up entire families and communities,” explains Jeannie Sager, director of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. “Our research on high-net-worth women in particular shows that they view investing in women and girls as a nexus for many other issues, including poverty, climate change, and racial equity.”

Carolina García Jayaram, founding CEO of global nonprofit the Elevate Prize Foundation, adds that given how intersectional issues often are, it can be as effective to focus on one issue you believe deeply in as it is to focus on several. “The crises we are facing on a global scale — whether the attack on girls’ and women’s rights, climate change, economic instability, or voting rights restrictions — are all connected,” she explains. And Curry-Mims stresses that most of the issues that are impacting our communities are multifaceted, so funding one nonprofit and cause may only be putting a Band-Aid on that one issue and not effectively impacting the issue like you might hope it would.

Making the maximum impact, no matter how you give

Regardless of how you choose to give, there are ways that you can ensure that your charitable donations are going as far as possible. Here are a few things to consider before donating your time and finances.

Identify what you care about

Focusing your philanthropy on just a few causes that are close to your heart can be rewarding. “The default for most people is to give a lot of smaller gifts, often because they’ve given to those organizations for years or because of social pressure from within their community,” explains Laura Latka, a philanthropic adviser and co-founder of the Giving Project. She notes, however, that when you ask people what causes are important to them, “it’s a lot more exciting and fulfilling to give to fewer organizations that are more focused within an issue or issues that person cares about, with fewer but larger gifts.” She reminds us that in addition to helping others, another aspect of giving that often gets lost in the conversation is the joy in giving. “Giving should make you feel good. It should make you feel proud, and hopefully, it should be fun,” says Latka. She says to ask yourself, “What feels both impactful and exciting?” and start from there.

When Latka sits down to talk with someone about their giving — whether it’s the $20 she gives her kids to donate each December, or $5 million when she’s working with a person or family to give grants — she starts with the same two questions: What do you care about? What change do you want to see in the world? “The answers are so different, but at its heart that’s where we start in philanthropy … figuring out what is important to someone,” she explains. This, she says, can be broad, like the environment, or very specific, such as preserving the health of the Lake Champlain watershed or saving stray kittens.

jar of coins for charity against christmas lights background

Giving should make you feel good. It should make you feel proud, and hopefully, it should be fun

Constantine Johnny//Getty Images

Create a giving strategy

Many foundations have specific issue areas they focus on and a giving strategy in place. This, says Thieman, can be just as helpful for individual givers. When creating a giving strategy, she says to ask yourself:

  1. What causes you’re going to support
  2. What nonprofits you’re going to support
  3. What your budget is for the year

If you have the ability, Thieman says it can be beneficial to set up recurring donations so that you minimize the legwork on your end, and your strategy is simply put in place. “This will enable you to say no to things that don’t align with your giving, budget your giving for the year, and ensure that your giving is aligned with your beliefs and values,” she explains. “Having this strategy in place minimizes the amount you’ll be pulled in all different directions.”

Sager is also a fan of creating a giving strategy. “It’s important to remember that meaningful philanthropy starts with one’s values, then engaging with specific actions and organizations that reflect those values,” she explains. “Developing a strategic giving plan can inform choices that align with your priorities, time, and budget.” Her organization created a giving plan to help both couples and individuals think about and talk through their philanthropic values and become more intentional with their charitable-giving decisions. It offers a template and a corresponding list of values and issue areas to help people navigate this.

Vet nonprofits

“There are tools and nonprofit evaluators, such as Effective Altruism or Founders Pledge, that look at certain criteria to evaluate nonprofits on their effectiveness and help people ‘do good better,’” explains Thieman. Another popular site is Charity Navigator. And Global Giving directs funds to a wide variety of organizations, providing background and impact information. “Other sites that provide charity evaluation tools include Charity Watch and BBB Wise Giving Alliance’s Give.org,” says Sager. Some people like to reference these tools when vetting nonprofits and deciding where to put their money. Other things to do before donating, Thieman adds, are to check out a nonprofit’s websites, their 990 financials, and year-end reports, and do your own research on what the nonprofit is accomplishing and what they plan to do with more funds.

Get involved, and get to know them

“From volunteering to meeting with staff, get to know their work and learn how you can make a difference,” says Curry-Mims. She explains that you might think, “I researched this organization, and I want to write a check.” Yes, the check will have an impact, but you might learn that at this moment they really need volunteers or space in-kind to truly make a difference at this moment. “Get to know them and their needs and goals to make the maximum impact possible,” she says.

Consider unrestricted funding

“While a donor might think, ‘I want to make an impact in a certain part of an organization,’ doing so might hinder the organization,” warns Curry-Mims. Thus, she recommends making your donation unrestricted. “Providing donations as unrestricted to their greatest needs allows them to operationalize your donation in the most effective and impactful way,” she explains. While you may want your dollars to always go toward the work on the streets, nonprofits also have overhead costs that help them keep doing what they strive to do and allow them to allocate the funds to whatever they need it for at the moment, which can be a great way to help keep their work going. Just make sure to fully vet the organization first to make sure it is legitimate, find out what percentage of your donations are going where, and identify how good of a job they do at putting your money to good use.

Team up with family and friends

“For everyday donors, it might be helpful to pool your resources with friends and family — or even strangers — to do more good,” says Thieman. This creates a collective impact and can make your donation feel like it’s going further when combined with others toward causes or nonprofits you care about. She notes that there are many ways to do this: giving circles, simply pooling funds with family and friends, giving to specific funds (e.g., a climate-change fund) or a fund that spreads your donation around to different organizations. “If you only have a small amount to give, it might not seem like it’ll make much of a difference,” Thieman adds, “but pulling it together with others and having more of a collective impact is a great way to get more engaged with your giving with others and feel like your dollars are going further.”


Nicole Pajer is a freelance writer whose work has been published in The New York Times, AARP, Woman’s Day, Parade, Men’s Journal, Wired, Emmy Magazine, and others. Keep up with her adventures on Twitter at @nicolepajer.

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