Can you count on the charity you've never heard of?

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Is it charity, or is it a mystery? You're wondering whether you can count on the charity to do what it says it will do with the dollars you give. Consider these tips before you write a check to a charity you've never heard of. 

Thousands of new charities pop up every single year. So if you feel like you're receiving more and more requests to give to organizations whose names don't ring a bell, you are not alone. Here are three things you can do to make sure your experience with giving is positive when you are trying something new.

1. Consider the source. If it's a friend, colleague or a neighbor asking you to support a cause she knows and loves, you can be more confident in your contribution. Ask about the organization to find out if it's a fit for you. Don't worry--you won't offend your friend by asking questions. Instead, your interest in the cause your friend is marketing will give her a chance to tell the story about how that organization is making a social impact. Spreading the word is a good thing!

2. Start with something other than money. Giving money to a charity is not the only way to do good. Supporting causes includes a wide range of other activities, including recycling, volunteering, serving on boards, donating canned goods or clothing, attending community events, marketing a favorite nonprofit, sharing with friends and families in need, purchasing brands that support causes, and caring for your own health and wellness. So, if you are uncomfortable with a monetary contribution, do something else for the charity you're being asked to support. Volunteer for an hour or two, donate household items, or attend one of the charity's events by buying a ticket instead of making an outright donation. These activities give you a chance to check things out.

3. Go online. And of course, you should check out the charity online. Giving is big business, and charities today know they need to report compelling information on their websites about the difference they're making with your dollars. In 2013, for example, Americans gave more than $335 billion is given to charities each year, across a wide range of causes: 47% to support religious and educational institutions; 12% flowing to human services charities; 11% to foundations and donor advised funds; 10% to charities focused on health; and the rest of the dollars flowing to charities focused on the arts, the environment, international causes, and public benefit organizations.

And remember, no matter how you choose to make a social impact, every act of doing good counts, especially when you support the causes you love the most.