Reverend Graham was right . . . Americans are a generous lot, especially this time of year!

The Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University examined the checkbooks—the giving patterns, priorities and attitudes—of over 1,400 high net individuals (defined as households with a net worth of $1 million and more and/or an annual household income of $200,000) and found 91% donated to charity last year.

Two-thirds of those donors report the single greatest challenge they face when making donations is to identify personally meaningful causes and nonprofits that support those causes. That is quickly followed by the inability to monitor those gifts and gauge their impact.

This holiday season Americans will spend an average of 4.5 hours researching computer, TV and smart phone purchases. How much time are you dedicating to reaching the charities you support?

If it is a smaller number than you’d like to admit, you are not alone! The vast majority of donors report doing no research at all when it comes to their charitable contributions.

Below are the top four things you should know about a charity before writing a check.

What is the experience and commitment level of the organization’s leadership: Board and staff? Are they qualified, and do they have expertise necessary to do the work?

What is the nonprofit’s financial picture? The public should have easy access, ideally on the nonprofit’s website, to the organization’s IRS filings, financial statements, and audited reports.

Is the organization’s 501(c)3 status current?

What is the impact of the nonprofit’s programs: direct and indirect? Too many nonprofits tout their activities (providing X number of hours of after school tutoring) when they should report on outcomes (increased comprehension, better grades and fewer students dropping out).

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