The period between Thanksgiving and New Year's is the season for giving and grasping. All of the charities I've donated to over the past year start sending me gifts I never asked for or want. I have about a dozen 2014 calendars, plus pot holders, gloves, blankets, Indian totems, and tote bags.
Organizations I've never heard of or that sound like others I've contributed to but aren't, send me letters pleading for help for abused animals, starving children, sick children, abandoned children, blind people, abused women, and wounded soldiers -- all of these tearjerkers are very persuasive, but I can't save EVERYONE or everything.
I used to donate to a veteran's organization which was later exposed as a scam with most of the money going to the management and not the vets. Some of these are particularly scummy because they use names very similar to legitimate veteran's charities. So they not only take money away from the vets they purport to help but cast doubt on respectable organizations that really do provide help to vets.
One of the best organizations for veterans is our own Sentinels of Freedom. Mike Conklin started SoF ten years ago in San Ramon and has spread it over the country providing jobs and housing to veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. If you look at the sidebar on the above article, the Sentinels of Freedom Space Coast (in southern Florida) is listed under The Best Charities with 100% of the money going to services for Vets.
My mother is very savvy about where she donates her money. She told me about Charity Navigator, which rates charities for honesty in spending and record keeping. Before sending money to any charity I check it now on the Charity Navigator website. I also contributed $10 to Charity Navigator because they provide a valuable service. I don't want to waste my money on some Executive's office furniture.
I try to pick charities to donate to because I believe in their causes. I tend to donate mostly to animal welfare organizations and organizations that provide assistance animals for the blind or otherwise handicapped. Most of these organizations are three and four star charities on Charity Navigator, so I know they are doing good work for both people and animals.
Many of these organizations promote donations as "gifts" for friends and relatives. A few years ago I gave my sister and her husband a "gift of a goat" from the Heifer Catalog. Then Charity Navigator down rated Heifer from three stars to two stars, so I gave my sister and brother-in-law maple products from an independent sugarhouse in Maine. I like to support small businesses and family farms in the USA too.
Heifer.org is challenging Charity Navigator's methods and ratings. In the future I shall check the BBB Wise Giving Alliance too.
Most of these organizations tout the tax deduction as a reason to increase your year-end contributions, but I don't contribute enough annually to make the charitable deduction worthwhile. Even when I list all of the charities I've contributed to over the last year my itemized deductions still fall below the standard deduction, so there isn't any tax benefit for me to make a bunch of last minute contributions before the ball drops on 2013.