America has thousands of registered nonprofit organizations. Many of these qualify as charities. They accept donations of money, goods, services, and time from individuals and other organizations looking to make a difference near and far.
In fact, there are so many worthy charities around that it’s difficult to prioritize your giving. How do you know where the dollars or goods or time you donate will really do the most good?
You can’t know for sure, but you can commit to support organizations with strong reputations for doing right by their donors and the people they serve. Even better if those organizations serve people right in your backyard, making a difference in the communities you visit every week.
These seven U.S. charities do just that. Which will you support this year?
1. Meals on Wheels
Meals on Wheels helps seniors and other vulnerable adults live dignified, fulfilling, autonomous lives in the comfort of their own homes. The national organization supports dozens of local chapters providing free, nutritious meals and desperately needed companionship in dozens of U.S. cities.
Meals on Wheels combats more than just food insecurity. Its stated mission is to tackle America’s “epidemic of loneliness,” which disproportionately affects older Americans who live alone, sometimes thousands of miles from any living relatives.
2. Washington State Farmers Market Association
The Washington State Farmers Market Association is one of the most active and successful state-level local food vendor organizations. It’s no surprise that it would find such success in a state as agriculturally diverse as Washington, but it’s not all about the farmers. The WSFMA and organizations like it fill a critical gap in the American food system, helping lower- and middle-income residents of urban centers like Seattle and Spokane find and enjoy fresh, healthy produce.
3. Patti’s Way
Patti’s Way supports minor children and their single parents and guardians experiencing difficult circumstances, such as food and housing insecurity. Founded by entrepreneur and philanthropist Steve Streit in honor of his mother, Patti, it’s built around the idea of “random acts of kindness” — which Patti was famous for during Streit’s own childhood.
Patti’s Way makes financial grants and provides other forms of financial and material assistance to those who need it most. Its work focuses on a few specific parts of the country, including Los Angeles, Northwest Arkansas, and Naples, FL. But it is open to partner charities nationwide.
You might think of Goodwill as the place you go to drop off clothing and household items you can’t sell and don’t want to throw away, but it’s so much more than that. Through a network of regional chapters (example: Goodwill of Central and Northern Arizona, serving greater Phoenix and rural northern Arizona), Goodwill provides low-cost clothing, furniture, toys, and other necessities to lower-income Americans while supporting employment opportunities for people with a wide range of abilities and needs.
5. The Salvation Army
The Salvation Army also operates a network of local thrift stores stocked with gently used items. But it stands out from Goodwill because it also provides direct support for Americans facing housing insecurity and mental health issues. It’s also one of several reputable charities that accept vehicle donations — a wonderful way to make an immediate impact on others’ lives.
6. The United Way
Like Meals on Wheels and some of the other organizations on this list, the United Way has dozens of local chapters overseen by a larger umbrella organization that (in the United Way’s case) operates internationally.
Through partnerships with local funders and community stakeholders, not to mention highly visible cultural institutions like the National Football League, the United Way is in a unique position to give back. It funds or directly sponsors programs addressing educational achievement gaps, healthcare disparities, food insecurity, and other acute needs of both urban and rural communities across the United States.
7. U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Through a network of local chapters and partners, USCRI provides refugee resettlement services nationwide. It has helped resettle more than 350,000 refugees to date, acting as a critical partner to the U.S. government and international aid organizations as they work to address the ongoing global displacement crisis. USCRI is always looking for financial support, but the best way to make an impact may be to volunteer.
You Can Make a Difference, Too
Millions of Americans give to charity every year, but most feel like they don’t have the resources to make a big impact on their own. When you give a few dollars here and a few dollars there, you might feel like you’re wasting your money. Likewise, how can you be so sure your old clothes or furniture will end up in the hands of someone who desperately needs them?
That’s why choosing the right charity is so important. While these seven organizations aren’t perfect, you can trust them to do right by your most vulnerable neighbors. And that’s what really matters.