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Many charitable organizations make special appeals at holiday time, and your family may already be thinking of giving to a worthy cause in addition to — or even in lieu of — exchanging presents with one another.

Before you pull out your credit card or checkbook, though, consider a few tips on how to find the right charity for you — one that will help you make the impact you’re hoping to achieve. Here are four essential questions to ask about any nonprofit organization that you’re considering supporting.

Does Its Mission Align With Your Interests and Values?

Deciding on the right charity to give to for the holidays starts with talking about the issues that matter most to you and your family. Your compassion may be aroused by the desperation of an overseas famine, or you may feel a push to address poverty and homelessness in your own town. You may want to support an organization whose focus mirrors your longtime personal interest in education, the arts or the environment.

Once you’ve selected a cause, do some research on related charitable organizations to learn more about their goals, activities and philosophies. You may decide to become a continuing supporter of this charity, so approach the process as if you were choosing a companion for a long-term relationship, suggests Charity Navigator.

Is It Trustworthy?

As important as knowing how to find a good fit is, knowing how to steer clear of the charities that are not as forthcoming with where their funds are going is even more crucial. You’ll want to pay special attention to how committed an organization is to accountability and transparency. Check out reviews through online charity evaluators like Charity Navigator, BBB Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Watch and GuideStar. Search for information about complaints or scams associated with the organization’s name. Use this IRS web page to make sure the organization is eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions.

If information about the organization’s mission, its operational headquarters and how its donations are used is missing from its website — and you can’t get a direct answer to your questions when you call — consider this a red flag. Another warning sign: when an organization soliciting donations pressures you to give without giving you time to think it over.

Is It Financially Stable?

Giving wisely means choosing a charity that has a track record of handling its donations and financial operations responsibly. Look on the charity’s website for a link to its IRS Form 990, a document containing detailed financial data that most major tax-exempt organizations are required to file every year. Charity Navigator and GuideStar also provide access to many nonprofits’ 990 forms.

Nonprofit organization websites often post copies of their audited financial statements. These reports reveal information about the organization’s accounting practices, business transactions and other financial activities.

Can It Document Its Impact?

A reputable and established nonprofit should be able to demonstrate progress toward its stated goals. Does its website or brochure cite concrete numbers of people assisted, or does it make vague statements about the “countless lives” it claims to have touched?

There ought to be information available on the website about the number of projects the organization has completed, the amount of money it has raised and the difference these efforts have made. You can find more data on a charity’s impact in its Form 990, which includes a section outlining its accomplishments over the previous year.

The holiday season offers great opportunities to show your generosity. Follow these guidelines, and you’ll be able to give with confidence, knowing your dollars are working to help a great cause.

This information and recommendations contained herein is compiled from sources deemed reliable, but is not represented to be accurate or complete. In providing this information, neither KeyBank nor its affiliates are acting as your agent or is offering any tax, accounting, or legal advice.

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