As we get ready to stick a fork in 2019, many people and businesses are considering where to send their end of the year donations. It can be overwhelming. Do I give to the Red Cross? The American Cancer Society? The Salvation Army? My church? How much of my money stays local? How much does the charity consume in operating costs and overhead vs. the amount of money they actually give out to help people?

There are a lot of awesome local charities and non-profits in the Billings area, and if you already have a favorite you like to donate to, great. If you are looking for some new ideas, here are five local charities that I think do a fantastic job. Three out of the five on this list have personally helped my family when we needed it and I can't say enough great things about them.

1. The Montana Hope Project.  Founded in 1984 by a handful of Montana Highway Patrol officers, the Montana Hope Project has now helped grant wishes to hundreds of critically ill Montana kids, by providing them and their families with trips and experiences that they would likely never be able to do. From the Montana Hope Project website:

The goal of the Hope Project is to make dreams come true for critically ill children in Montana. The conditions the children face typically require medical intervention and physically, emotionally, and financially drain the children and their families.  Ninety percent of all proceeds from fund-raisers, corporate and private donors, and memorials go directly to wishes for Montana children. The average wish granted costs about $8,800, and the most requested wish is a trip to Walt Disney World.

2. Ronald McDonald House. Families from all over the region may find themselves stuck at our Billings hospitals for days (or even weeks) while their children get crucial care. Trust me, it can become very overwhelming when you are looking at hotel and food bills, on top of the stress of whatever medical issues the family is going through. The Ronald McDonald house in Salt Lake was a lifesaver for my family, and we've since donated to the Billings Ronald McDonald House. Besides cash donations, they can always use a number of household items (call for specific needs) and they also accept time donations, should you or your group like to cook a meal for House guests.

3. Yellowstone Valley Animal Shelter. Just visiting the shelter makes me want to open my wallet and give them whatever is in there. They can always use donations, no matter how large or small. YVAS says,

Donations make it possible to manage our programs, expand shelter services, develop an active public volunteer program and prevent animal suffering. Your tax-deductible donation will make a tremendous impact on the lives of many companion pets in your community.

4. Chase Hawks Memorial Association. Sure, you've heard of the Chase Hawks Rodeo, but otherwise, what do they do? They help Montana families in crisis. The needs could vary, and they've helped people struggling with a variety of issues. From their website,

While we never know exactly what kind of assistance will be requested, we have provided fuel for families to drive sick children to Denver, built wheelchair ramps, collected clothes and household items for fire victims, secured airline and bus tickets for medical travel, covered funeral expenses, and even provided Christmas toys for families in crisis who must spend their dollars elsewhere.

5. Warrior Wishes. There are a number of nationally known veteran charities that  provide services for vets. This one is based right here in Billings and gives back 96% of their donations to local vets in need. A little more about what they do,

Warrior Wishes Montana, Inc. offers programs to Montana Veterans and active service members in addition to monthly events. These programs were designed to provide support to Veterans who are experiencing financial hardship, recovering from a disaster, those pursuing higher education and Veterans who are incarcerated.

Whomever you decide to donate to (after all, it's your money), make sure you do a little research first to see how the charity is using their donations. Does it mostly pay for admin staff? Or helping people. One great online tool is a site like CharityNavigator.org. Happy giving!