NEW YORK (MONEY Magazine) -
Most people give to charity for a very simple reason: They are asked. More than 60 percent of households that donate money have received a request on behalf of the cause, according to Independent Sector, a coalition of philanthropic organizations.
Donors who respond to solicitations also give more than self-motivated givers -- 75 percent more, or $1,945 vs. $1,114, in 2001, the latest contribution figures available.
That approach is certainly understandable. Choosing from among the roughly 1 million charities in the U.S. -- nearly twice the number of a decade ago -- is a daunting task. And at this time of year it may seem as if you're getting appeals from every one of them.
Adding to the volume: Many telemarketers who have been barred by the "do not call" list from phoning you on behalf of private companies have begun soliciting for nonprofits, which are not barred by the list. Under this deluge, giving when we are asked is often the simplest solution.
But taking the easy route is not the most satisfying way to give -- and it's certainly not the way to ensure your money is doing the most good. That's why charity experts urge donors to take the lead, rather than follow directions, in determining where, when and why to give.
Ask yourself a few questions: Which issues are most important to you? Do you feel strongly about famine relief, say, or cancer research? Do you prefer to donate within your community or send your money to national or international groups that will direct your contribution where it is most needed?
The closer the match between your giving and your passions, the greater the reward you will feel.
Often a personal connection to the cause can be the most powerful motivator. That's certainly the case for husband and wife Mark Mandel, 46, and Sarah, 50, of Schaumburg, Ill. The cause closest to their heart is finding a cure for Tourette's syndrome, a neurological disease that may lead to uncontrollable tics and vocalizations.
Mark, who co-owns a pharmacy, found out that he had TS at age 38, 18 months after two of his three children were diagnosed. "We realized there was very little funding for this disease," says Mark.
In addition to contributing his own money, Mark organizes an annual race in his town to support TS charities. The latest run drew 1,000 participants and netted nearly $12,000. Says Mark, "The race is good for our community, good for TS, and we feel good too."
Next: Check out the charity »