Charitable Giving

Why volunteering makes you a smarter donor

Americans love to help others. In fact, Giving USA estimates American individuals gave more than $264.58 billion to charities in 2015 — an increase of 3.8 percent over 2014, when measured in current dollars.

Yet before donating, only a third of donors research charities to make sure their support is used in the way they wish. Volunteering is one of the very best ways to inform your charitable giving decisions — after all, a lifetime of smart giving takes considerable thoughtfulness

First-hand experience offers rare insights.

Start by volunteering at charitable organizations with interests that meet your values and that connect personally to you. While donating your time, you can assess the commitment and efficiency of the charity first-hand. Remember, when charities operate efficiently by keeping expenses low, more of your contributions can be used effectively to support your cause.

However, it’s not as simple as looking for local or national charities that keep expenses to a minimum. Author Dan Pallotta, in his Ted Talk on charity, talks about the importance of how well charities use their funds to achieve their goals, not just how cheaply they do it. He proposes we reward charities that meet their accomplishments according to plan. Again, your volunteer experience, from the inside, is invaluable in helping you personally see how their big goals are met over time.

“The next time you are looking at a charity … ask about the scale of their dreams … how they measure their progress toward those dreams and what resources they need to make them come true.” 1

– Dan Pallotta, author and humanitarian activist

Volunteer and give more.

According to research, when you volunteer you feel closely connected to the charity and its mission, so you tend to donate more than non-volunteers. This is especially true when you regularly see the direct impact of your work and participate in organizational planning by providing feedback.

So, when you volunteer with your favorite charities — even for just a few hours a month  — you can get a sense of a charity’s strengths, shortcomings and integrity from a position of first-hand experience. This will help you formulate your giving strategy by focusing on charities that operate ethically and deliver a high impact for your causes. 

Not sure what charity to volunteer with? Try our charity search engine for ideas. You can search by cause, keyword and location.

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1Pallotta, D. (2013, March). Dan Pallotta: The way we think about charity is dead wrong [Video file]. Retrieved from

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