When I wrote about budgeting a few weeks ago a lot of people commented about how donating to charity should be built into every budget. Whether or not you donate to charity is up to you, but if it's something that's important to you, then you should do a little research first.
Know Where Your Money Is Going:
It's nice to think that all the money you donate is going directly to feed starving children in Africa (or whatever your cause is), but some charities spend a portion of their donations on upkeep fees, administration services or other in-house activities and only a small portion of each donation goes to help the children. Before you give any money, make sure your comfortable with how your donation is being used. If you don't know how the money will be spent, ask.
Research Charities On Charity Navigator:
Charity Navigator is a really cool tool that lets you look up a charity and get a breakdown of its accountability and transparency. You'll get an idea of where the bulk of the charity's donation money is spent as well as a glimpse at how much money the charity is bringing in. You can also read reviews from people who work with the charity, but as with all reviews, take them with a grain of salt.
Just for fun, I looked up some of the big charities that you see at race events. If you're curious you can check out the pages for Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (Team in Training) and the American Cancer Society (DetermiNation).
Avoid Charity Scams:
As we get closer to the holidays, charity scams tend to increase since people tend to be a bit more generous this time of year. If you start getting calls asking for donations be a little be wary. The Federal Trade Commission actually has some really great advice on how to spot a fraudulent "charity" that is just trying to steal your money. I definitely recommend you take a look at what they say before you start donating this year.
Deciding whether or not you're going to donate to a charity is a very personal decision, and so is deciding which charity to donate to. Donating doesn't have to be a big year long commitment where you pledge to give a certain amount each month. Instead you could race for a charity and help fundraise for them, or you could give a one time donation to a cause you feel strongly about.
Whatever you decide to do, just do a little research so you know that your money is really going to a good cause.