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Year-End Guide to Charitable Giving

Scott Olson/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- As the end of the year approaches, many Americans are searching for the best organizations to give to.

In 2011, Americans donated $217.79 billion, up 3.9 percent from 2010, according to an annual report on philanthropy from the Giving USA Foundation.

But this year a lukewarm job market might mean only a moderate bump in donations over past years.

“We expect to see perhaps a very modest increase. While the economy has improved, it is far from robust, and the unemployment rate continues at a high level,” said Joanne Reisser, vice president of development at Charity Navigator, a nonprofit group that evaluates charities.

In addition to a slowing job market, Superstorm Sandy hit the East Coast about two months ago, causing an economic loss of $35 billion to $45 billion in the area affected.

The storm, which hit the U.S. in late October, could have an impact on end of the year giving, said one expert.

“Since Hurricane Sandy occurred so close to the end of the year, that may impact December giving,” Reisser told ABC News. “Thirty percent of annual giving occurs in December, with 10 percent given in the last two days to take advantage of tax breaks.  With the likelihood of going over the fiscal cliff looming and the uncertainties inherent therein, people may decide it’s better not to give this year,” she said.

In the run-up to the end of the year, Charity Watch CEO Daniel Borochoff said charitable donations could remain flat but said donations related to Superstorm Sandy weren’t expected to have a huge impact on overall donations, because they only accounted for 1 percent of charitable giving. Consequently, with the threat of cuts to government programs, Borochoff said Americans should consider giving to national and local programs that help the needy. Charity Watch rates charities, helping donors to make informed decisions.

“There’s a lot of needy veterans and a lot of F-rated groups and A-rated groups and people need to be careful,” Borochoff told ABC News.  

And just what earns a charity an F?

“A lot of what the F groups do is they educate you that needy people have needs and don’t do much to help people,” said Borochoff.

Borochoff suggests requesting an organization’s tax forms, financial statements, and if the charity is soliciting donors, take care, because much of a donation could end up going toward paying the solicitor.

Keep in mind that the Internal Revenue Service is not just about tax forms. Anyone wanting to donate should refer to the IRS for tips on year-end gift-giving, including guidelines on what qualifies as a charitable donation.

Here’s a look at the Top Seven Charities that made the top 100 list compiled by the Chronicle of Philanthropy for 2012:

•    United Way

•    Fidelity Charity

•    Salvation Army

•    Catholic Charities U.S.A.

•    Task Force for Global Health

•    Feeding America

•    American National Red Cross

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio