12/18/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

What To Do Before You Donate: Five Ways To Give Wisely

When you give money to a charity, it can be tough to know what happens to your donation after it's left your wallet. Will it go directly towards purchasing a new cow for a family in Kenya, as you'd been told--or will your hard-earned money all be squandered bankrolling the sushi buffet for the organization's wealthiest donors?

You may not see your money again, but there's no reason you shouldn't consider your donation an investment in the world of social good. And as with any other investment, you'd like to make sure that you're getting value for your contribution. So how can you be sure that the charity you select will use your donation wisely?

"Use your head and your heart," says Rich Cowles, executive director of the Charities Review Council. "It can be a more satisfying experience if you do a little bit of research." Here are five ways to ensure your donation will make a difference.