Best Charities to Donate to

October 8, 2020

You know the saying, “It’s better to give than receive.” Well, you probably also know that old adage is true! Just think about the warm feeling you get when a gift you've given makes someone smile — or how gratifying it is to know that a favor you’ve done has really helped someone out of a bind. Donating to charities by giving and helping feels good and there's ample evidence that it's also really good for you. Hence, the importance of finding good charities to donate to.

A 2008 study by Harvard Business School professor Michael Norton and colleagues found that giving money to others made the givers happier than if they spent it on themselves. Those findings backed up a 2006 study by the National Institutes of Health, which showed that there really is a "helpers high." Charitable giving activates the parts of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection and trust. 

With giving back such a win-win, you may already be doing it a lot within your family and your community. But if you've ever wondered how to have a broader impact, how to find the best charities to donate to, there's no better way than to support a charity that's tackling the world's bigger problems. The beauty of supporting a charity is that no gift is ever too small. $5, $25, $50 — the cost of a latte at your corner café, lunch with a colleague or a movie date for two — can make a big difference. 

The only questions are which cause do you want to support and what are the best charities to donate to in order to make your donation really count?

The best charities to donate to: How to decide?

To decide which charities are best to donate to, ask yourself which causes mean the most to you and what problems you most wish to solve. What's your issue? Climate change, world peace, human trafficking, hunger and nutrition, public health, equity, domestic violence, civil rights, water conservation, sustainability, children? If you want to maximize your impact — and feel good about your investment — then it's important to pick a cause that aligns with your personal values.

The good news is that donating to UNICEF USA is a great way to take on many of today's touch global issues, including donating to children. With a presence in 190 countries, UNICEF works to make the world a safer place for children by solving problems impacting children and their families.

Around the world, when natural disasters strike, epidemics break out and conflicts force families from home, UNICEF is there to put children first. With its over 70-year history of being in the right place at the right time, UNICEF operates from the premise that every child is precious -- no matter where he or she lives -- and that all children, especially the most vulnerable, come into this world with the same basic human rights.  

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the bedrock of UNICEF’s work to keep the well-being of children front and center in global conversations and action surrounding the world's problems. UNICEF makes sure children's rights are always protected in their daily lives and also during humanitarian crises, when those rights are most in danger. In crisis and conflict, UNICEF fights such violations as child marriage, child labor and trafficking and the forced recruitment of child soldiers. UNICEF also upholds children’s rights to daily essentials, like clean water, nutritious food, healthcare, education and the basic freedoms we can’t imagine our families' children living without.

See how much good you can do by supporting UNICEF's work! 

Best Charity for Climate Change 


After Hurricane Matthew hit Dominica in 2017, UNICEF delivered hygiene kits to families living in shelters in Roseau, the capital, in less than 24 hours. © UNICEF/UN0127075/Moreno Gonzalez

UNICEF is working to keep climate change top of mind for governments and policy makers, believing it to be one of the most critical issues facing children today. The rise in climate-related disasters and extreme weather over the past few years makes this work increasingly important because although children contribute the least to greenhouse gas emissions, the most marginalized children are the ones hardest hit by the impacts of climate change.

UNICEF works to protect children impacted by climate change during extreme weather events by providing clean safe water and sanitation, medicine to combat water-borne diseases and other emergency medical supplies as well as educational programs so that in an emergency, like a hurricane, flood, earthquake or drought, children don’t fall too far behind in their learning. Additionally, UNICEF promotes education on environmental issues to empower children to become champions of the environment they will inherit.

Violence and malnutrition threaten millions of children in Yemen like Saba, who is severely malnourished with complications, including fever, a cough and diarrhea. Saba’s parents and siblings are vulnerable to malnutrition, too, because the family has lost its income due to the war. But thanks to UNICEF, Saba received treatment and is now recovering with check-ups at an outpatient clinic where she goes for checkups and ready-to-use therapeutic food. © UNICEF/UN0276434/Almahbashi


Today, the number of countries with violent conflicts is the highest it has been in 30 years, and one in four children across the globe lives in a country affected by conflict or disaster. On a recent visit to Syria and Yemen, where years of war have had a devasting effect on children, UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore said:  “To everyone we say, we need peace. It’s what children need. Children are always the most fragile and are often the first victims in a war and in violence. We as a world have often forgotten that we need to look after children. They are our future.”

For 70 years, UNICEF has looked after the children forced to live in some of the world's most dangerous places. When conflicts have destroyed children's homes, schools and the infrastructure they need to stay healthy and safe, UNICEF steps in to provide clean water, health care, nutrition, protection and learning opportunities.


On 9 February 2019 in Yemen, a child is vaccinated in Bani Alhareth, Sana’a during a Measles and Rubella vaccination campaign. © UNICEF/UN0284441/ Alaidroos

15,000 children under five die every day from preventable causes. Meanwhile, 50 million displaced children are on the move today, creating serious health threats that can negatively impact their daily lives and their futures.

UNICEF does whatever it takes to protect children’s health, employing tried and true interventions like immunization against diseases we can prevent to innovations like the drones being used to deliver medical supplies to rural Malawi.  In 2018 UNICEF immunized 4.7 million children against measles.

Child Protection

Giving to charities that manage child protection cases is one of the best ways to donate to children. 535 million children — nearly 1 in 4 — live in countries affected by conflict or disaster, making them far more exposed to the threat of violence and psychological harm. But violations of children’s rights to protection don’t just occur in war zones or places hit by a natural disaster. They occur in every country, cutting across ethnic and economic lines. 

Every seven minutes an adolescent is killed by an act of violence. If current rates prevail, more than 150 million girls will marry before their 18th birthday and 68 million more girls will undergo female genital mutilation by 2030.  UNICEF protects children around the world from violence, exploitation and abuse by working with governments to develop policies that address the risks to children, promoting legislative protections and working on the ground to help children who’ve been assaulted, abused, exploited, trafficked or separated from their parents. 


Dry conditions stemming from El Nino have caused severe drinking water shortages for Ethiopia’s people and livestock. To help families survive, UNICEF funded wells and water treatment to ensure 5,300 people like 16-year-old Silas, seen here drawing water from the well in her village. © UNICEF/UN024857/Sewunet

Donating to support UNICEF’s  water, sanitation and hygiene programs is a great way to have a significant impact on children’s health and the communities where they live. According to the World Health Organization, for every $1 invested in water and sanitation, there’s an average economic return of at least $4. Programs that help children and families maintain good hygiene are another truly cost-effective way to ward off disease and keep everyone — grownups and kids — in good health. 

Since 2014, more than 150 million people in 113 countries have benefited from improved water supplies thanks to UNICEF, which works with governments, community-based organizations and families to ensure children and their families have clean water and sanitation — even during emergencies. UNICEF also improves sanitation and hygiene facilities in schools, which helps keep attendance up and empowers children to take positive steps, like hand-washing, to keep themselves and their communities healthy. In 2018 UNICEF provided: ADD HAC # HERE


Children can’t survive without proper nutrition, both before they are born and after.  Tragically, though, every day, nearly 7,500 children under age five die from malnutrition. The numbers who are chronically malnourished are just as sobering. 155 million children — about 1 in 4 worldwide — are chronically malnourished, a deadly condition if left untreated that raises the risks of infection, disease and long-term health risks. Children who are malnourished also have trouble learning, which over the long term can keep them from reaching their full potential.   UNICEF safeguards nutrition from a child's first day of life by promoting breast-feeding, her first and best protection from illness and disease. UNICEF also provides pregnant women and children nutritional supplements and vitamins to keep babies and moms healthy before and after birth. 

UNICEF works hard to prevent the conditions that can tip a malnourished child into crisis. But for those who do become severely malnourished, UNICEF has the answer: therapeutic food, which can literally bring a child back to life.


If you care about education, UNICEF works in 155 countries to give the most marginalized children the chance to learn. What's more, supporting education is one of the smartest investments you can make in a child. If all students in low-income countries left school with basic reading skills, an estimated 171 million people could be lifted out of poverty, which would be equivalent to a 12 per cent reduction in global poverty.  

A disadvantaged child who can go to school has a chance to break the cycle of poverty that can grip a family for generations. On average, just one additional year of education can increase a child’s earnings later in life by 10 percent. For that reason alone, supporting education is one of the most long term and meaningful ways to donate to children.

Education is also crucial to empowering girls, who all too often don’t get their fair chance to learn. From 1970 to 2009, the world saw immense reductions in child mortality. An estimated 50 percent of that progress is linked to an increase in the education of girls and young women. 

Despite those gains, 263 million children are out of school. Some 63 million children are missing out on their education due to conflict and crisis.  

From the safe learning spaces in Yemen to the tent schools of Syria, UNICEF is helping children build the skills they’ll need to forge a better future. In 2018 UNICEF helped 5.9 million children keep learning.  

Empowering Girls and Women

Early marriage is a major barrier to girls’ education in Malawi, where families are more likely to fund school fees for their sons rather than for their daughters. But thanks to the K.I.N.D. Fund, a charitable partnership between UNICEF and Lawrence O’Donnell, girls like Joyce (above right) are getting scholarships they need to stay in school and hatch dreams for bright futures. © UNICEF/UN0119434/Chagara

Discrimination against girls can begin at birth. Infant girls are often deprived of both medical care and nutritions food, a dangerous form of discrimination that has contributed to higher mortality rates for girls. Girls’ preceived inferiority in some cultures can also limit their ability to go to school, live free from violence, make autonomous decisions about their lives and, down the line, earn an income that can support them and their children. 

How do I find out if a charity is legitimate?

Before you write a check or provide your credit card details, you'll want to make sure the charity is legitimate and that the maximum amount of your donation will reach those in need. Doing your research will help you feel good about making your charity donations, especially if you are looking to make your gift monthly. Below are a few research tools to help you decide which are the best charities to donate to:

Four tools for finding good charities to donate to that help children:

IRS Nonprofit Charities Database: Enter the name of any charity you wish to check out into the tool's Exempt Organizations Select Check Tool to ascertain its 501(c)(3) tax exemption status, which will tell you whether or not your donation will be tax deductible. 

Charity Navigator: This organization rates charities based on their financial health, accountability, and transparency to help prospective donors gauge how efficiently a charity will use their support, its programs' and services' performance over time, and the charity's commitment to accountability and transparency.

UNICEF USA receives the highest ratings for accountability and transparency from Charity Navigator, and our program expense ratio of 89 percent means we are a highly efficient charity, as defined by independent monitors, with 2.7 percent of our expenses going to administration and 8 percent to fundraising. This means that, out of every dollar spent, 89 cents goes toward helping children. We spend just 8 cents on fundraising costs, and 3 cents on administration.

Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance: BBB rates organizations according to 20 different metrics, including governance and oversight, effectiveness, finances, solicitations, and informational materials. Compliance with each standard earns charities one point. Organizations receiving BBB accreditation -- like UNICEF USA -- require a perfect 20.

To learn more about donating to UNICEF USA and our monthly-giving program read this story.

This story may also help you when deciding what is the best charity you can donate to to help children. 


Top photo: Israel, 16 months old, plays in a UNICEF-supported health center outside Abidjan, the capital of Côte d'Ivoire, where his pregnant mother came for a consultation.