The Season Of Giving - Where Is Your Money Best Spent?

Donating time and money to help those in need, should be something we do year round. However, it seems we often wait to loosen the purse strings and set time aside until the Holiday season. In a study on charitable giving published in the Huffington Post, it was found that 1 in 2 adults were likely to donate during the holidays and even in tough financial times, 47 percent of unemployed individuals said they were going to give as well.

In 2010, American's donated more that $290 billion to charity. Although this is far less than the money spent on retail purchases or money set aside in investment accounts that is a BIG number. Donating has the power to not only improve lives of others, but it can be very fulfilling for you as well. Aradhna Krishna, a marketing professor at the University of Michigan, said that giving to charity is proven to increase a person's feeling of contentment.

This may be giving you that warm and fuzzy feeling but with more than 1.7 million charities competing for your well-earned and well-intended dollar, how do you know where to give and how?

Health.com interviewed Ken Berger President and CEO of Charity Navigator, the nation's largest evaluator on charities. Berger said, "We've seen cases where as much as 95 cents of the dollar goes to the fund-raising agency, not the charity."

Avoid scams and donate your time and money where you can make the biggest difference. Use these tips and suggestions to get swept up in the spirit of giving wisely.

Smartmoney.com gives great tips on how to ensure your contributions are well spent. Get to know the organization. A charity is a non-profit, tax-exempt organization. When looking into donating, do your homework.

Be picky! Choosing the type of charity you want to get involved with is not easy. There are many options and ways to give. From religious to educational charities. From monetary donations, to time and hard goods. What and to whom would YOU like to give?

Is the charity financially sound? Organizations like Charity Navigator and Guide Star investigate the nations largest charities. It gives lists for the best and worst charities, such as top 10 charities overpaying for their for-profit fundraisers and top 10 charities that are in deep financial trouble.

Is the organization legitimate? The charity should be in good standing with the Internal Revenue Service and not in violation of the USA Patriot Act, which, among other things, regulates foreign transactions by charities. The IRS has data that it updates regularly on charities that are eligible to receive tax-deductible charitable contributions and, if so, how much of your contributions are tax-deductible.

Do your research. Ask questions. Be sure to invest the time and money that your budget and schedule allows. This is supposed to be something to feel good about, not stress over.

Tax Deductions. To claim a deduction for contributions of cash or property for $250 or more, the IRS says you must have a bank record, payroll deduction record or written acknowledgement from the charity showing the amount.

Make sure your money is going where it says it is and will have the most impact! Experts say that healthy charities spend 75 cents of every dollar n programs and services, with no more than 15 cents going towards administrative expenses. This information can also be found at Charity Navigator and Guide Star.

Do not be pressured into donating and do not fall for online or tele-marketing scams that run rampant this time of year!

Don't know where to start giving your time or donations? Read on for more suggestions.

Use a search engine that gives. Helping raise money for charity can be as easy as surfing the web. Using a search engine such as Goodsearch.com generates money for a cause as you use the Internet. Powered by Yahoo, this site donates about a penny per search to a charity or school that you designate.

Shop with a cause. If you do your Holiday shopping online, consider using a site that gives a percentage of your purchase or any cash back rewards you earn to charity.

Goodshop.com works with more than 2,500 retailers (including Amazon, Gap, Target, Staples and Macy's) to give a percentage of almost every purchase back to a charity or school of your choosing.

BoxTops4education.com Marketplace features more than 150 retailers that donate a certain number of eBoxTops (worth 10 cents each) for every qualifying $10 purchase to a school of your choice.

Sign up for a free account at Extrabux.com and do your online shopping through the site, you can earn cash back on purchases and choose to have that money donated directly to a charity (rather than sent to you by check or PayPal).

Donate your time. Plenty of groups need extra volunteers around the holidays to help those in need. Time you set aside can be just as valuable as a monetary donation. Plus you can interact with the people whose lives you are impacting. Some employers may even match your volunteer hours with funds. For example, Microsoft will match volunteer time at $17 an hour through its Volunteer Time Matching program. Check with your company's human resources department to find out whether it has a similar program and what the requirements are.

Donate your stuff. One mans junk another mans treasure or lifesaver. Clean out your closet and donate the things you no longer want. For example, if you have old utensils, dishes, or pots and pans, check with the local Salvation Army or soup kitchen to see those items are needed for preparing and serving holiday meals. You can claim a deduction for donated items on your tax return if you itemize. Goodwill has a donation value guide that can help you figure out the market value of items you give.

Do you have a new or used bike you are trying to get rid of? Do you want to go global with your donation? Donate your bike to Bikes Without Borders or Wheels of Change International. These two organizations collect bikes to be used as bike ambulances and also create jobs for needy communities in Africa.

If you are looking for more creative ways and different organizations to give to, Forbes.com suggests "101 Novel Ways to Give". With charities to help animals, people in poverty-stricken countries and fight diseases, this is a list has something for everyone. Now you can't choose not to give because you don't know how or who to give to. Do your research and find one that speaks to you!

Give outside of yourself this Holiday Season!