Americans are generous people. According to GivingUSA.org, total charitable donations by individuals rose to a new high in 2016. 

Many of us will continue to support our personal charitable causes throughout this holiday season. If you're planning to give, it makes sense to do so intelligently and for the right reasons. Here are four tips to making sure your hard-earned money goes to a cause that reflects your values and will have the most impact. 

1: Research the organization asking you for money.

Have you heard of the website Charity Navigator? This site rates charities based on many criteria, such as CEO salary, percent of money directly benefiting those in need, and dollars raised per year. Taking these into consideration, Charity Navigator assigns a grade to charities. You don’t want to donate your hard-earned money to a charity or non-profit without doing your research first.

2: Think about why you’re donating.

The only reason you should donate to any organization is because you believe in its mission. If you’re doing it because you feel pressured by your employer to give, or because you’ve been receiving a lot of sales pitches from the organization, it’s okay to opt out, especially if you simply don’t believe in the mission. That money can be put to use in a better way for an organization you actually do support.

3: Consider donating your time instead.

Organizations do need money to function; that’s a given. But they also need volunteers. It’s so important to know the difference between charity and philanthropy. I would rather donate my time any day, but I also recognize that many non-profits just don’t have enough money to operate. Donating your time is so much more rewarding, as you meet new people and actually get to see the fruits of your labor. If you simply can’t afford a monetary donation, donate your time.

4: Give from the heart.

If you decide you’re ready to donate your money, be proud of your decision. Know that you’ve made it through a clutter of companies fighting for your money with marketing campaigns, guilt tactics, and tax benefits. If it doesn’t feel right, it isn’t. And frankly, you have no one to answer to except yourself. Giving from your heart will make the most impact for everyone.

It’s easy to feel cynical when someone asks you for money. But giving should feel good and be based on your own personal beliefs, not on what someone else thinks is right for you.

Happy giving!