Americans are well known for their charitable giving and generosity towards those who are less fortunate than themselves. Since there is so much need in the world, people are often subject to large numbers of appeals regarding all manner of no-doubt-worthy causes. In self-defense, people often elect to focus their personal efforts on a specific “cause” and leave all, or at least many, of the other needs to someone else.

Yet, even when one narrows their focus down to a limited topic, there are still many diverse organizations that are competing for the donations that go towards satisfying that particular charitable impulse. Since they all have excellent marketing campaigns and produce the same sort of heart-rending appeals for assistance, it is not always easy to know which ones truly make a real difference in their chosen charitable endeavor.

This is sometimes known, at least in military parlance, as the Tooth to Tail ratio, which is a way of expressing how much of the available dollars are spent on actually meeting the need and how much is being spent on extravagant new headquarters, large administrative costs, and even farmed-out fundraising campaigns. Indeed, there are some “charities” that frankly operate as outright scams that serve no other purpose than to provide easy living to the organizers.

Likewise, many large and well-known institutional charities have becomes so bureaucratically sclerotic that their administrative costs eat up gigantic amounts of money before spending a dime on their chosen mission. The best way of protecting oneself from giving your donations to regrettably unworthy organizations is to double-check with one or more of the disinterested charity rating services such as Charity Watch, Charity Navigator, or the compilations published at intervals in Consumer Reports.

Yet even these watchdogs are not immune to giving the benefit of the doubt to a charity that matches their own charitable impulses, which is one reason why it is best to consult with more than one. An even better way might be to give locally to a struggling organization that does not enjoy the worldwide cachet and fundraising prowess of some of the major “causes”. Nor does such a donation have to be monetary. Volunteering a little time to a local organization can not only be a big help to them, but it can also provide the rock-solid assurance that, when you do choose to donate your money as well as your time, it is going to be used wisely and efficiently.