This time of year it’s natural to begin thinking more about charitable giving. The breaks from work and school — coupled with nonstop advertisements designed to tug on your heart and purse strings — means you’ll have ample time for planning gifts. It also means there’s an opportunity to give back.

There are numerous charities to get involved with, and the countless noble causes looking for assistance can be overwhelming. How do you ensure that your time or money is doing the most good it can? Whether you’re volunteering or donating funds, you want to know that your efforts end up the right place. Here are some tips for finding a cause you can be passionate about.

Consider your roots

There’s no better place to begin than with your own history. Which people made notable impacts in your life? What situation or event profoundly affected you?

Ira Shulman, the president and CEO of senior living residence Kivel, says there is often direct connection between donors and those who receive assistance. “Many of our donors have had family, such as mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, cared for at Kivel.”

“Many of our donors know someone who has had a tragic outcome,” said Wendy Carriere, executive director of the Minkoff Center for Jewish Genetics. “People give generously to our organization so that they may spare someone else the pain that they, or someone they know, has endured.”

“A personal connection is often developed, because of the long-term relationship we have with our families. Many parents of children who have received scholarships from the JTO continue their support even after their children are no longer attending one of our partner schools,” said Linda Zell, the executive director for the Jewish Tuition Organization.

Identify community needs

Perhaps the cause you’re seeking is nearby. Look around at your community with a fresh gaze. What are the needs of the residents, of your neighbors? Does someone require extra support? There may be a homeless shelter nearby that needs the air conditioning fixed, and you can give funds or labor. Are the causes in front of you also ones you could support?

“Charity and donations are about what has meaning to you, and then building relationships so you feel are you a part of the organization,” advised Amy Hummell, executive director of Gesher Disability Resources. “Support a cause and a charity that is important to you, first of all, and one that will make a difference to the ultimate recipient and the community.”

Listen to yourself

“My suggestion is always to start with what you care about!” said Gail Baer, vice president of philanthropy for Jewish Family & Children’s Service. “Ask yourself what moves you, or what is your passion?”

“The most direct way to pick a charity is to choose a mission you are interested in,” said Shulman.

Research first

What a charity does with the money you donate should be transparent. You want to know that the funds you gave are going to where it counts, and not toward excessive overhead or generous executive salaries.

“Do your homework,” Baer said. “Check the organization’s website, which should have posted its annual report and fiscal year financials.”

“One of the best ways to get to know an organization is to start participating in its programs. Get to know the staff and volunteers to see their passion and compassion in action. Ask to see their financials. Ask questions,” said Rabbi Michael Beyo, CEO of the East Valley JCC.

Determine how you’re going to give

“Always remember the skills you have that could benefit others,” Hummell said. “If you are creative, offer to help with craft projects or centerpieces at fundraisers.”

“Every organization should be able to provide a variety of opportunities to get involved,” said Beyo.

“Another way to get involved is to send a letter or make an appointment with an organization,” Shulman suggested. “The purpose being to explain to the organization any ideas you may have.”

And word of mouth is always needed. “Tell people about what we do so that they may get the appropriate testing,” Carriere said. “We rely on word of mouth and referrals to a great extent so that we may utilize our financial donations directly for test kits and educational events.”

“While probably not top-of-mind for everyone, but for the JTO word of mouth is very important, easy and can make a huge impact.Tell your family, friends, co-workers,” said Zell. “By spreading the word, it takes very little effort, can be part of any daily activity in which you are participating and it can really help our students.” JN

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