14/12/2012 04:09 GMT | Updated 12/02/2013 05:12 GMT

Top Tips for Giving Effectively This Christmas

Giving to a good cause may sound simple but with over 160,000 charities registered in the UK alone it can be hard to know where best to send your money and to be confident of its impact.

Earlier this year NPC research found that one in ten charities are facing closure in 2013, and a recent estimate found that public fundraising is down as much as 20%. Given this context it is more important than ever that we dig deep and donate this festive season. Giving money to charity at Christmas is as traditional as turkey and mince pies, and as charities do battle with falling incomes and growing demand for their services they'll be hoping for a Christmas boost like never before.

Giving to a good cause may sound simple but with over 160,000 charities registered in the UK alone it can be hard to know where best to send your money and to be confident of its impact. To help, NPC has devised its four steps to giving:

1. Choose a cause: Many people choose to support one of a small number of high profile causes, but consider where your money will make a real difference to a group in need. Think creatively, as a lot of satisfaction can be gained by giving to charities which run projects in your area of interest, such as sport or music for disadvantaged children. It's also important not to forget some of the grittier areas which perhaps don't receive so much public support- such as mental health or refugees and asylum seekers.

2. Pick a charity: Consider whether you want to make a difference on your doorstep (for example by supporting a local hospice) or contribute to achieving broader change (for example by giving to a national campaigning organisation). Then do some basic research, which is easy using the NPC website or the Charity Commission's site, into which charities' work really makes an impact on their beneficiaries' lives. Don't be beguiled simply by emotional pictures of a needy cause, try and work out if this charity does have an impact and does so cost-effectively. Don't be distracted by administration costs as the best way of judging a charity's efficiency-- they are not an effective predictor of what an organisation achieves.

3. Give smart: Whilst charity Christmas gifts attached to a particular scheme can be a nice gesture unrestricted donations towards the core costs of running a charity can provide a lifeline, particularly for smaller organisation who cannot afford special Christmas marketing. Goats are nice and important but no charity can operate without paying for the IT system and the cars to ferry their workers around in difficult parts of the world. It's also worth checking whether your workplace operates any kind of matched giving scheme as this is an easy way to boost your donation. No amount is too small however, and don't forget to give Gift Aid!

4. Stay in touch: Charity is not just for Christmas and you will get more satisfaction from your donations if you keep in contact with your chosen charity. Giving doesn't just have to be about money--you can help them by volunteering, donating items to their shops or consider trusteeship. If you do want to continue to support them financially, payroll giving is an effective method which benefits both you and the charity.

We know that everyone is feeling the pinch this Christmas, but that should be all the more reason to put a bit of extra thought into your seasonal charity donation. You don't have to be an expert charity analyst but by taking a little time to follow the steps we have suggested you'll make sure that your money really make the biggest difference to the beneficiaries you want to support.