(BPT) - Giving back is a big focus of the holiday season. This year, because Thanksgiving fell a week late, Americans have five fewer days to give back and help charities earn much-needed funds that keep yearlong programming afloat. That could translate into shortfalls of millions of dollars for charities, so the stakes are high. Yet it can be difficult to decide which charity will do the most with the donations it receives - and how those donations can positively impact the donor come tax season.
Keep the following points in mind to ensure that your charitable donations have the most positive impact - for both you and the beneficiaries of your generosity:
* To ensure that your contribution is doing the most good, it's important to support efficient, effective charities. A good example is The Salvation Army. With nearly 7,500 centers of operation in every ZIP Code, The Salvation Army earned high praise in Forbes magazine when Peter Drucker called it 'by far the most effective organization in the U.S.' Compared with other high-visibility charitable organizations, The Salvation Army is exceptionally efficient, with about 82 cents of every dollar the organization spends going directly to support community service programs.
* Find a charity that aligns with your passions and beliefs, and make sure it is an IRS-recognized 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization. A number of online resources can help you find a charitable organization that gives back to a cause you believe in and are eager to support, including CharityWatch.org, GuideStar.org and the Better Business Bureau.
* To claim a monetary donation of $250 or more, you'll need a receipt or acknowledgment of the donation from the charity. The receipt should include the amount of the donation, whether you received goods or services in exchange for your contribution, and an estimate of the value of anything you received in exchange for your contribution. If the value of donated goods tops $500, you'll need to file a special tax form - Form 8283 - to get credit for the donation.
* Match your gift to the need of the organization. Depending on the charity, it may be better to give money, whereas others need supplies or manpower. Be sure to investigate the priorities of the organization and determine how best to give back.
* Finally, look for a charity that makes it easy to donate. As Dec. 31 approaches, you may find yourself making a contribution at the last minute. For example, The Salvation Army accepts donations online at https://donate.salvationarmyusa.org, by phone at 800-SAL-ARMY, or via text (message the word 'KETTLE' to 80888 to make a $10 donation). And of course, the holidays wouldn't be complete without the cheerful bell ringers and red kettles found throughout the community.