Last updated: February 19. 2013 9:24PM - 665 Views

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'Tis the season to be giving, an action that happens more often during the holidays and is quite infectious.

People are opening up their hearts and wallets now more than ever, but how can you be sure your dollars are going to the right place?

The year-end push is a big one for many charities, which may rely on them for 40 percent or more of annual donations. It's likely you'll be inundated with requests for contributions, so here are some tips on how to choose which charity is right for your philanthropic tastes, courtesy of charitynavigator.com and similar websites:

• Always consider a charity's financial health. Good financial health creates greater flexibility for the organization to follow through on its charitable mission.

• The organization should be run in such a way that it's accountable and transparent.

Such a charity is less likely to perform unethical or irresponsible acts, such as misusing the money you're donating.

• Looking at concrete evidence of what a charity has done also is important. Why donate to an organization that doesn't see results?

Responsibility also falls to you, the donor. Some donors like to designate contributions to certain projects within the charity, but some experts suggest giving an unrestricted gift, allowing the charity to use the money as it sees fit. This will be an easier course to take once familiar with the charity of your choice.

Among the biggest charitable recipients at the moment are causes that aid victims of Hurricane Sandy.

Millions of Americans gave generously to help victims of Superstorm Sandy, Ken Berger, president & CEO of Charity Navigator, said on the website that lets users view statistics that tell how effective a charity is and in what ways. As a result, local nonprofits – such as battered-women's shelters, after-school programs and animal shelters – are predicting a shortfall in contributions this holiday season, making it especially critical that donors do their homework and support efficient, ethical and effective charities providing services in their community.

Facts about charity

• Network for Good reported that the average donation amount is much higher during the holiday season: In December 2010, the average gift was $142 vs. an average of $91 for the year.

• The average American gives 4.7 percent of his or her income to charities.

• The average person makes 24 percent of their annual donations between Thanksgiving and New Year's, according to research from the Center on Philanthropy.

• On Nov. 27, charities, families, businesses and individuals came together to create a new holiday tradition. This movement, called #GivingTuesday, aims to set aside a day dedicated to giving, similar to how Black Friday and Cyber Monday have become days synonymous with holiday shopping.

(Courtesy of charitynavigator.com)

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