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Make It Count
These days, it's more important than ever to choose the causes you support wisely. If you're going to give your hard-earned cash, you better do your research. Start by finding out how much of a charity's income goes to programs, as opposed to overhead. This is called the program ratio, and the higher it is, the better job a charity typically does deploying your money. You can find out how particular organizations are doing by going to CharityNavigator.org or by looking over the IRS form 990, which is available at GuideStar.org or on the charity's site.
Once you have this information in hand, you can make comparisons between groups, but just make sure you're comparing apples to apples. An organization with less administrative costs—say, a food bank—shouldn't be compared to a museum, which has to pay multiple employees.