Best Charities for Last Minute Giving

80% of charitable giving is done between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. From stats I’ve seen from online giving portals, it seems that a big rush of online giving occurs in the last few days of the year. Readers of this blog know that I recommend donors spend time planning their giving, creating a written philanthropy plan and donating to organizations in which they have a high level of conviction.

But what if it is the last day of the year, you want to make a gift to charity and you aren’t sure where to give? Here’s a strategy that takes 5-10 minutes and will result in your donations accomplishing more good than the vast majority of charitable gifts.

In 5-10 minutes you can’t possibly learn enough about a charity to determine if it is any good (imagine buying a stock with 5-10 minutes of research!). But you can piggyback on the research being done by professionals. For free.

Your first resource is GiveWell’s top rated charities. GiveWell is a research team that works to identify charities whose programs actually work. Read the short profile of these thoroughly researched charities and pick one that interests you. The organizations range from ones providing immunizations in Africa to ones working on improving teacher quality in the US.

Don’t even have time for that? Just donate to one of GiveWell’s top rated charities by clicking on the links below.

Another great resource is Philanthropedia. This group surveys nonprofit, foundation and academic experts to identify top charities. Check out there list of organizations in the areas of Climate Change, Education, Microfinance or San Francisco Bay Area Homelessness and donate to the expert recommended organization that most interests you.

Don’t even have time for that? Philanthropedia has created charitable “mutual funds” where you can make a single gift to a cause area and they’ll split it up among the groups they recommend. Just click on the links below and scroll down to the “expert mutual fund” donation form:

A third option is New Profit, Inc. New Profit is a national venture philanthropy fund that supports rapidly growing social entrepreneurial organizations. While their site is not designed to process donations, they do offer profiles of their current portfolio of charities they support. Once you find one you like, head over to Network for Good to make an online donation to the group.

Don’t even have time for that? Just make a donation to New Profit, Inc and they’ll use 100% of your gift to support their full portfolio of charities.

If you use this process, you can feel confidence that the organizations you are supporting are the same ones that experts would pick if they were in your shoes. But if you use this process to complete your charitable giving in just 5-10 minutes, do me a favor and make a New Year’s resolution to start earlier next year so you can make a simple written plan and find organizations you personally believe are doing great work instead of depending on someone else’s recommendation.

Happy New Year!


  1. Gordon Strause says:

    Great post Sean. But actually, even if folks carefully plan their giving all year, I don’t think they are likely to do better than the links you provide above. Most folks simply will never have the kind of time needed.

    Instead, I would recommend that folks uses these organizations’ recommendations as a starting point and focus their energy on trying to decide which of their recommended organizations most excites them.

  2. I don’t really agree Gordon. These groups have listed some outstanding groups. But they also offer a very, very limited view of the sector. Across all of them, they only recommend something like 100 charities. What if a donor cares about helping people with mental health issue in Portland OR? None of these groups will help.

    If social good was fungible, so that good of any kind was equal, and donors didn’t care where or what kind of good they created I’d agree with you. But that’s not how donors actually operate (nor should they in my opinion).

    • Lena says:

      Hi, i was wondering if you can give me some more information about charities? and have u ever donated to one. Im doing a project on them and i need more information. i am making a Charity Brochure and the one with the most information and needs the most help my class will donate to….. so i was wondering if you can help me.

  3. Gordon Strause says:

    A fair point Sean. If you’re interested to giving to a cause that these folks don’t cover, then you are on your own (or will need to find a different resource that can help you).

    So I’d guess I’d amend my comment to say that if you’re interested in giving to an international aid, microfinance, or climate change org (and you care about maximizing the value of your donation), you’re best off starting with the organizations recommended by the orgs above (and winnowing from there).

    That said, I would confess that only about 40% of my giving this year went through those two orgs. I also gave directly to 30 or so other organizations, generally for one of three reasons:
    – I was personally invested in those orgs (either because I used to work in them or because they actually directly serve my family).
    – I was asked to give to an organization by someone I know.
    – I gave because the org was one I wanted to identify with in some way.
    And while I don’t think any of those reasons is “wrong” (and I will doubtless continue to give for all three reasons), if I’m honest with myself all these gifts were more about me than about others.

    I think the world would likely be at least somewhat better off if I directed more of my giving to the best non-profits (rather than ones where I just have my personal connection), so one of my goals for 2010 is to direct more of my giving to those organizations that I can be confident are doing the best work.

    Although I think part of the answer to this is not just to give more through GiveWell and Philanthropedia but to try to also take steps so that the orgs where I have personal connections ARE the best orgs.

  4. Gordon Strause says:

    Two other thoughts while they’re on my mind:

    – While they don’t make it as easy to give from their site as they might, another place where folks can find highly recommended organizations is the FastCompany “Social Capitalist” awards winners:
    At the very least, this group of orgs makes me feel better about my giving (since a number of the places where I give because of personal connections are listed there 🙂 ).

    – I don’t know if you have done so already, but a really interesting future blog post (or Tactical Philanthropy Forum!) would be a compare/contrast between the GiveWell approach to recommending non-profits and the Philanthropedia approach.

    I think both orgs are doing fascinating work, but I also think there are some significant potential criticisms to be made of each approach.

    With GiveWell, I wonder whether their reliance on data makes them miss too many high quality non-profits that for (understandable) reasons don’t have the data they need to prove effectiveness and whether a world where GiveWell is much more important would be a world where non-profits actually spend too much time/energy/money on data collection and begin to only take on projects that are easily trackable versus projects they believe would deliver more impact but would be harder to get metrics on.

    I think the Philanthropedia approach arguably solves both of these problems, but what I wonder about them is whether their experts really are able to identify the most effective orgs or whether they are susceptible to being blinded by charismatic non-profit leaders and media hype.

    It is interesting in that regard that a number of Philanthropedia’s “mutual fund orgs” are actually non-profits that GiveWell explicitly does NOT recommend:

    In the argument about who is right about these orgs, I’m inclined to have more faith in GiveWell’s recommendations (a combination of my own experience with “experts” and GiveWell’s greater transparency about how they came to their conclusions; while Philanthropedia’s general approach is transparent, I don’t think it’s possible to know how the experts came to their conclusions), but I suspect the Philanthropedia approach is more scaleable.

    In any case, I think it would be really interesting for Tactical Philanthropy to go deeper on this issue.

  5. Gordon Strause says:

    It seems that GiveWell didn’t want to wait for a Tactical Philanthropy Forum invitation. They just posted their concerns about Philanthropedia’s approach here:
    Interesting stuff.

  6. Yes, Philanthropedia vs GiveWell is interesting and something I’m sure I’ll comment on soon. It seems quite clear to me that neither are perfect and both are good tools to help triangulate towards the right answer.

  7. This is a great conversation that I only saw now! Gordon, you have some great points, which are top of mind as well. We will be gradually making more of our process public in the coming months, and I would love to hear what you think and any suggestions for improvement!