It feels good to give, especially to causes that we strongly believe in. Volunteering is also a tremendous habit to get into, but there's no getting around the fact that many of us simply do not have the time. Therefore, donating what we can within our respective means is one way we can help to make a difference, despite our hectic schedules. Giving to (registered) charities will also contribute to reducing your tax burden - a win-win.
But, how do we know that the money is going where it's supposed to? There are a number of indicators:
Firstly, see if your chosen charities are listed on charitynavigator.org. They conduct regular audits, giving star ratings to help you choose effective organisations
Check out the charity's annual report; a breakdown of financial data is required in most jurisdictions. Don't worry, you don't have to read it all! Look for organisations that spend less than 10% on administrative overhead. Some functions are undoubtedly necessary to resource appropriately, but we want the vast majority of our giving going towards fulfilling the organisation's mission - not consumed by management and organisational processes.
Larger charities have a Board of Directors. Mostly unpaid, some do provide remuneration, however. Ostensibly, this is to "attract and retain talent". This is a personal judgement call, but consider if you want to support a charity where the board pays itself, almost as if it where a for-profit enterprise. It also means leadership may not be truly passionate about the mission.
Use different media outlets to determine if the charity has been coopted by business and/or government interests. Finding common ground to work together is one thing; cozying up to these interests and not making waves is another. As the goal is generally to break down (or gradually) alter the status quo, there ought to be some adversarial interaction.
Most importantly, though, find a cause you believe in and support it! Giving what you can, even if it seems small and insignificant, really can make a difference. It will also make you feel good. Please consider choosing at least one today.
Along with carbon offsets, one cause we like to support is animal welfare. We love our fellow creatures, and wish to see an end to the unnecessary and cruel suffering found in industrial-scale factory farming.