We evaluated my grandmother's multitude of holiday donation requests today, when I picked up my mother there. We took a bunch home, and looked them up on Charity Navigator to find out if they were legit. If you don't know, Charity Navigator is a great resource that explains the efficiency of charities to which you're considering donating money. For example, the American Jewish World Service received four stars (out of four), because almost the entire donation goes to their programming, and barely any goes to administration costs. The American Institute for Cancer Research, on the other hand, spends far more money on administration and fundraising, thus diminshing their efficiency.
The American Institute for Cancer Research, however, brings us to Point #2: A lot of these charities are pointless analogues, which only confuse potential donors. For example, my grandmother got mail from both the American Institute for Cancer Research and the National Foundation for Cancer Research. (Both rated only one star, by the way.) Neither of them is as legit as, say, the American Cancer Society. My grandmother also got mail from both the Disabled Veterans Associations (one star) and the Disabled American Veterans. Both worthy causes, if they were legit, but the added costs of separate fundraising clearly cut into their efficiency: 96.7% of money donated to the Disabled Veterans Associations is re-spent on fundraising, and only 2.3% is spent on their programming. Look it up!
But all these silly organizations with confusingly similar names remind me of a scene in Monty Python's Life of Brian. It's his first encounted with the People's Front of Judea, NOT to be confused with the Judean People's Front:
In closing, I'd like to share some of my favorite charities, Camp Tawonga of Northern California and the American Jewish World Service (four stars out of four for efficiency). I can personally vouch for both of them, having been involved with Camp Tawonga for 12 years and with AJWS for seven. They both provide vital programming, one to California's young Jewish community, and the other to the entire population of the developing world. I encourage you to check out their web sites to find out more, or feel free to ask me for details. I can't think of another place where your donation will have such a vast and important impact!