03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Charities' Most Important Day in 2009: December 31

Charitable giving -- the online version -- usually peaks on December 31st each year.

While most nonprofits wish giving was more spread out and less event-driven (e.g., not in response to a disaster at home or abroad), in fact, most individual and family donors total up their year-end surplus, recover from holiday gift-giving and end the year on a charitable note.

There are admittedly a bewildering array of online choices about where to put your money -- most are worthy and certainly in need of a year-end financial boost, but many are nothing more than slick Web sites shamelessly copying the message and online advertising methods of the large brand name charities we are so used to seeing.

Here are a few tips you might think about or discuss with those you include in your all-important year-end decisions:

For international giving:

•Giving locally yields the highest return, but few donors are likely to know the identities of deserving and effective nonprofits in other countries or in very localized places -- e.g., villages with worthy programs in need of funding, traditional local organizations servicing villages, etc.

•Finding a U.S. nongovernmental organization, or NGO, with a range of such contacts and partnerships abroad is a great way to go as long as only a minimal amount of your money is absorbed by the U.S. NGO's administrative or headquarters-based program costs. has detailed financial data and overheads of many legitimate U.S. nonprofit organizations, but caveat emptor as not every nonprofit on its long list is totally kosher. Hucksterism and slick marketing are alive and well in the nonprofit world -- therefore pay as much attention to the financial and program details about every group as you would in buying a car, choosing a mobile phone or on a cable TV provider.

For local giving:

•Decide what your personal priorities are.

•What have you and yours observed that is weak and in need of fixing here at home?

•Where is your heart?

•Let your head back up your heart in choosing from among a sea of seemingly overlapping groups all claiming to attack various illnesses, provide children's services or enhance cultural or educational experiences. Those groups are not all equal by any stretch of the imagination -- old and established may be good but expensive to run; new and agile may also be good but inexperienced in generating or evaluating worthwhile projects.

I enjoy reading through websites and applying what I've learned over 45 years of nonprofit work to judge what groups say they do for those in need.