Most of this post is more information that I have shared with my acquaintances before, but I'll put it on here anyway.
Giving to charity is great, and it's really great when your donations hit the mark. Because so many charities exist, it is easy to find one that connects with your particular interests, an important factor for ensuring you feel good about where your money goes. However, the large number of charities makes it a little more difficult to find the ones that are best at putting donations to work most efficiently and effectively.
While it might seem daunting to wade through the many charities to find those that excel at using their money for its intended purposes, there are resources available to help you make your decision.
The Better Business Bureau evaluates charities based on 20 standards and shows how much of each charity's funds actually go toward the programs the charity promotes. The BBB also provides tips about wise giving. You can access these resources by clicking either here or here. Note: The second link goes to the BBB's main site, at which you can also see ratings of businesses (both online and traditional).
Charity Navigator is another site that rates charities. It provides additional information that is useful for choosing a charity, so if you use it together with the Better Business Bureau's information, you end up with a good idea of what charities make the best use of their money. You can visit Charity Navigator by clicking here.
Environmental note: If, after checking up on various charities, you haven't yet decided where you would like to send your money but have narrowed down your list to a few finalists, hopefully including an environmental organization, may I suggest going with the environmental option? This year's report by Giving USA, an organization that annually analyzes trends in charitable donations, shows that donations to environment/animal-related charities made up only two percent of all donations. That's not to say they didn't receive much money (they actually received $6.15 billion) or that the other types of charities aren't deserving of the money they receive, but it would be nice to see the percentage given to animals and the environment grow a bit.
At any rate, be sure to find a charity that fits you and your interests, and use the BBB's Web site and Charity Navigator to help find a good one.