Online giving to charity: Stay smart, stay savvy

Giving is up, according to the Giving USA report released last week. In 2014, Americans gave a record $355 million to charity. What's up with that? Online giving, that's what.

More and more people are choosing to make donations to their favorite charities online, especially on their mobile phones and tablets. Thanks to this increasing "mobile mindset" when it comes to supporting the cause we love, online giving grew 8.9% in 2014 compared to 2013.

So what do you need to know about online giving? Keep these three tips in mind to make sure your experience with online giving is as positive as the difference you intend to make in the lives of others.

1. Watch for security basics.

Every reputable online giving website, or a specific nonprofit website collecting online donations, should make a representation about its security and privacy. Look for the privacy policy on the website, for example, to be sure the organization does not give away your information. Not every website is built by developers with cutting edge cloud expertise, so keep your eyes open.

2. Keep that email.

When you make an online donation to a charity registered under Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3), you are eligible for a an income tax deduction. The email you get back from the charity acknowledging your donation should contain language for you to use when filing your tax return. Don't hit delete without looking closely.

3. Charity, or just doing something good for someone else?

Finally, remember that there are plenty of other types of online giving besides charitable donations. For example, you might be asked to participate in funding a project to help a neighbor with medical bills, collecting donations for a scholarship, or even funding someone's start up idea for a new company. Keep in mind that not all endeavors are organized for charitable purposes, so you might not be able to deduct your investment.

The rules are as easy as 1, 2, 3. So go ahead--enjoy the experience of charitable giving online. You are so good!