Even if you're just donating $1, giving back should be deliberate and meaningful to you, not an afterthought. Make sure you support the charity's mission and the recipients of its good work.
Look into how it accomplishes its mission and what its results are, says Ottenhoff. For example, if an organization is feeding the homeless, it should be able to tell you how many people it feeds every night and how that compares to last year, he says.
You should also be able to find a nonprofit's financials to make sure it's healthy and not squandering donations, Miniutti says. Charity Navigator, GiveWell and GuideStar all are resources for that.
Last, if you itemize your taxes, make sure to get a receipt, which should spell out which organization received the donation, the date of the gift, the amount of money donated or the description of the property that was given. Usually, it's up to the donor to place a value on any donated items.
"It's a nice benefit," Yunker says. "But we find (that) people give to charity to feel good and make a difference."