I know your pain oh, so much. I literally have a 14 gallon rubbermaid container FULL of solicitations I have received.
Even worse, for-profit fundraising companies send most of those mailings! They take the money, and deduct their "expenses", rigged to consume almosts all your gift. Some companies have been caught passing as little as 9% to the charity.
First let's talk about a few issues.
Authentication. Is that outfit really a tax deductible 501c3 charity?
Address. Is this their genuine address, or is it the dropbox of a scammer or one of those evil for-profit fundraising companies?
Acknowledgement. For gifts over a certain size, you need a thank-you letter from them to show the IRS that you really donated. Will you get it? The limit is $250 (no letter, deduction rejected) but as a practical thing, it helps in an audit to show as many donation letters as possible. Charities cannot issue them retroactively, but can issue you second copies of ones they sent previously. If the charity drops the ball, you lose.
Plain old money orders
Obviously enough, you go to the post office and spend $1 on a money order.
This does not authenticate them as a charity. It does not assure it goes to their real address. You can do both these things yourself, by checking their data on the IRS website or on guidestar.org.
You don't get an acknowledgement.
Donor Advised Fund
I mention these because donation websites work much the same way. DAFs require a higher one-time commitment but are much simpler and more efficient after that.
If you are planning to give $5000 in a single year, save it up and open a Donor Advised Fund account. A DAF is itself a charity. You donate to the DAF, and take the tax deduction for charitable contributons. Then, you tell the DAF to donate it to other charities on your behalf, or anonymously.
Their concept is, you use the DAF as a "buffer" so you can easily make the tax-deductible donation when you need to for tax purposes, then at your leisure research charities and support them.
However, I asked my DAF - most people donate and then immediately re-donate the money, leaving the fund at zero balance. My DAF doesn't mind that at all, and they charge zero fees for this.
(Its expenses are paid by those of us who leave money sitting around in the DAF. Mine charges 0.6% a year. This money can be invested sort of like in a 401K, and each investment also has an expense ratio, such as 0.18% a year in my chosen index fund.)
- The DAF lets you choose to gift anonymously, so the charity sees the DAF's address instead of yours.
- the DAF staff authenticates that the charity is genuine.
- They only send the check to the charity's official address in Guidestar or IRS data.
- The acknowledgement letter comes from the DAF itself. Since you have an account, the system will give you electronic copies of your acknowledgement letters anytime you want.
Donation websites (mini-DAF)
Websites like "justgive.org" will take any amount of your money and re-donate it to the charity you select. They deduct 3-5% for their expenses (notably paper, stamps, and the 2-3% it costs them to process your credit card).
- Anonymity, authentication and address work the same as a DAF.
- Acknowlegement letters work the same as a DAF. However they don't require you to "set up an account", and if you don't, they won't archive your acknowledgement letters for you.