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The other day I was sitting in the Starbucks drive-through line. I pulled up to the window to pay and I was informed that the car in front of me had paid my bill. It was surprising how such a simple gesture made my day. There’s no quicker path to a warm fuzzy feeling than giving to others, whether it be money or time. While the Internet gives you the ability to help any cause that touches you, it also makes it confusing to narrow down where your contribution can make the most difference. Luckily there are some great tools available online to help you get started making the world a better place.

When you donate to a charity, you should choose a cause that is near and dear to your heart, but as a smart donor you want to make sure you’re putting your money where it will get the best use. Charity Navigator (www.charitynavigator.org) is designed to help you navigate the veritable sea of charities out there. They will help you identify ones that are the most reputable, fiscally sound, and give the largest portion of donations to the cause. Search out a charity categories such as “animals,” “religion,” or “health,” or simply type a name of a specific charity you’d like to review into the Charity Search and you’re provided with a rating that is based upon their financial health, their accountability and transparency.

our nerds can help you find the best place to invest your money!

If you have a cause you’d like to help someone raise money for, or if you’d like to find a specific person you can help with a donation instead of a charity, GiveForward (www.giveforward.com) is a great resource. Utilizing “crowdfunding,” a technique where multiple small donations add up to large funds, GiveForward allows persons in need (or their loved ones) to set up a page that tells their story with a link to donate online. Users fundraise for everything from helping a neighbor rebuild their house after a natural disaster to paying for out-of-pocket medical expenses for a child’s cancer treatments. Social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter are utilized to “spread the word,” and once the fundraiser is complete, the money is transferred to the recipient’s PayPal account or mailed to them by check. The page you create on the website provides a place where family and friends can visit to read about the fundraising progress, make donations and post well-wishes. GiveForward even offers a personal fundraising coach to help you reach your financial goal. Users should be aware that the website charges a 7% fee for the final transaction – that is a delivery of the lump sum at the end of the fundraiser.

There’s a lot of good you can do in your community if you have a couple extra hours on your hands, and in some cases you don’t even need to leave your home to do it. Check out Volunteer Match (www.volunteermatch.org). Non-profit organizations utilize the website to post requests for help with certain tasks, and then willing volunteers take up the cause. Use the search function to find a volunteer opportunity close to you, or browse by categories such as “children and youth,” “health and medicine” or “environmental.” Click on the virtual listings tab to find all sorts of ways you can help remotely with skills you already have, such as tutoring first graders in reading with just a computer and a phone or helping with art projects or web design. Sort by “local opportunities” within the virtual tab to find specific causes in your area.

be proactive in your giving by doing research

Where ever you end up donating your time or money, Charity Navigator offers these tips for “intelligent giving.” Be proactive in your giving by doing your research. If your interest is cancer research, don’t just donate to a generic cancer charity but have a targeted goal such as providing cancer screenings for at-risk individuals. Resist the urge to simply send money to the first person who calls you on the phone asking for a donation during a time of crisis. Hang up the phone, research the charity online, and then donate directly with them instead. You’ll cut out the middle man and make every dollar you donate count. Lastly, when it comes to philanthropic investments, “spreading the love” to multiple causes is actually not beneficial to any of them. Choose one, or possibly two, that are particularly close to your heart and concentrate your efforts. In this way you can bring about the most substantive change.

About The Author: Andrea Andrea Eldridge is CEO and co-founder of Nerds On Call, a computer repair company that specializes in on-site and online service for homes and businesses. Andrea is the writer of a weekly column, Nerd Chick Adventures in The Record Searchlight. She prepares TV segments for and appears regularly on CBS, CW and FOX on shows such as Good Day Sacramento, More Good Day Portland, and CBS 13 News, offering viewers technology and lifestyle tips. See Andrea in action at callnerds.com/andrea/.