There is no shortage of important causes and vital initiatives that need our time, attention, and resources when it comes to Dallas charities. But with a finite budget for donations, it can be challenging to decide where our money should go.

Of course, we hope you’ll choose to donate to LifeSavers, but we understand that giving away money is highly personal. So we put together this brief guide to help you find and choose the right charities for you.

Make a list of Dallas charities you care about.

The truth is that you can’t give money to every cause out there, unless you have the net worth of Jeff Bezos. Best to get clear on what causes are really important to you.

Think about the people and issues that tug at your heartstrings. What problems do you want to help solve? Which demographics of people do you want to support? Are there particular charities or nonprofits that helped you or a loved one through a tough time? Write down your thoughts so you can do some research.

Another thing to consider is the size and footprint of the charities you want to support. Some nonprofits do work on a global scale, while others maintain a hyperlocal focus. Keep in mind your geographical preferences when researching charities.

Research their business and political affiliations.

Not all charities have a political agenda, but many do. Research and make sure the charities you choose are a match with your beliefs.

The most accessible place to start is with their website. Their mission statement and their About page will tell you most of what you need to know, but you might also find pages titled “Affiliations,” “Views,” “Beliefs,” or similar. Also, look for a list of board members, donors, and sponsors to see who they’re aligned with.

Check out the charity’s social media presence and see who they interact with. If they follow politicians you don’t like or public figures with shady backgrounds, pay attention to that.

Learn where your money will go.

Important causes need money for a variety of different initiatives, and every nonprofit is involved differently. For example, some nonprofits use donations to fund advocacy work and political action. Some support research. Others route money directly to those in need. All of these things have value, but only you can decide which is most important to you.

A charity’s annual report will be your best resource for determining exactly how they spend their money. Most will have complete budget breakdowns and in-depth reports of everything they accomplished in the last year. Review these things carefully so you can decide where you want your money to go. You might be able to find these numbers on their website, as well.

One thing to keep in mind: Overhead is inevitable. Just like regular businesses, charities have to pay salaries, provide insurance, and buy office supplies. These things keep the nonprofit going and drive progress toward meaningful goals. But keep an eye out for too much overhead.

And remember, when donating, you can usually choose a specific designation for your gift. So, for example, a general operating gift is an excellent choice if you want to help pay for good employees. But if you want every cent to go toward a specific initiative, you can choose that too. So do what feels right for you.

How to spot red flags when researching Dallas charities.

It’s heartbreaking to say it, but there are a lot of scam charities out there, and they’re not as easy to spot as you might hope.

One huge red flag is a charity whose actual impact or purpose is almost impossible to understand. Nonprofit organizations should be proud of the work they do, so proud that they’re practically shouting it from the rooftops! If all you’re finding are vague stories with no clear, quantifiable impact, you should be suspicious.

Here are a few other things to keep an eye out for:

  • 501(c)(3) status. A charity’s website should be clear that they are a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. If it’s not mentioned anywhere, it’s probably not a legitimate charity.
  • Founders’ Syndrome. Sometimes a charity is just a platform for a particularly charismatic leader whose credentials may be unclear. Be wary if their entire website is just a shrine to one person, with very little content about their mission and impact.
  • Endless gimmicks to get you to donate. The right gift can be a nice incentive to donate, but a nonprofit shouldn’t rely on trinkets alone to attract donors. The cause should be reason enough.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the many worthy Dallas charities seeking our attention and resources. But with a little research and a clear perspective on what’s important to you, you can be confident that your donations are aligned with your heart.