Say you have the time and financial means to give back to your community. On the one hand, you could pick out a few local nonprofit organizations and write out the occasional check or electronic donation.

But how do you know your money is going where it should be? And are the organization's values in line with your own? Can you do more than offer up a monetary donation?

If you're feeling generous but need help knowing where to start, these five tips will help you pick out a nonprofit you're proud to support.

  1. Research their mission and values 

What are you most passionate about? Start with that question when looking to give. You’re more likely to give willingly and as often as your financial situation allows when it’s for a cause you fully support. A national nonprofit charity should make its values and mission statement available online; same goes for more prominent state and local charities. 

  1. Evaluate their effectiveness 

How does the organization plan to use their donations? Can that information be verified? Always look for transparent organizations about their finances and where their money goes. Ask for data on the impact of their programs. You can ask if they make their financial statements and overhead costs available to the public. The answer might be "no!" Ideally, you'd like to see how the organization allocates its funding toward salaries and administrative costs versus the cause it supports. Otherwise, you can find some of that information from websites that provide evaluations of charities and their effectiveness. 

  1. Look at the nonprofit’s reputation and history

Has the nonprofit ever been in the news for the "wrong" reasons? How long have they been around, and what's their reputation? Are they considered effective and credible? Do others view them as having a solid track record? You should do some research before donating any money to a charity. 

  1. Consider the organization’s structure

How a charity is structured organizationally can offer a peek at its effectiveness. You're looking for a nonprofit that has a clear, efficient organizational structure and has demonstrated before the effectiveness of its leadership and management. And don't be scared off by small charities – sometimes, smaller organizations have more personalized connections to their communities.

  1. Get involved and engage with the charity

The best advice? Get involved. Volunteer at their events. Engage with the leadership directly. Don't be afraid to ask questions. You want to make an informed decision, which isn't always possible behind a computer screen. Meet with the people involved with the nonprofit and find out what makes them tick. If it's aligned with your feelings, then it's probably a good match.

Ultimately, the key to choosing the right nonprofit or charity to support is to research, both in-person and on-screen. By evaluating different organizations and their impact, you can feel confident that your donations are making a meaningful difference in the causes you care about.