Getting what you want during the holidays is not nearly as important as giving what you have. But far too often, people don't ask the right questions before they donate to charity.

Think about it. How much do you really know about that organization asking for your money, time or resources?

In most cases, it's much too little.

"When people give, particularly during the holidays, it can be a knee-jerk reaction," according to Annie Balliro, the senior director of global brand philanthropy for Hard Rock International in the U.S.

"We're asked by so many emails, phone calls and letters in those mailboxes to donate, and people do. But they often give blindly, without really understanding where or how their donations will be used," Balliro said in an interview with

Since 1971, the Hard Rock Cafe has assisted a wide range of charities, including WhyHunger, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, the Nelson Mandela's Children's Fund to name a few. In each case, the charities have reflected Hard Rock's dedication to its core mantras: "Save the Planet," "Take Time to Be Kind," and "All is One."

"We're fortunate at Hard Rock because artists will come to us and say ‘Hey, we want to do something good, but we're not sure how to go about it. So we match-make and make it happen," Balliro said.

"But make no mistake, whether you're famous or not, it's important to know as much as possible about any philanthropic partner that you would like to support."

At, for example, potential donors can find many ways to educate themselves on different charities.

Websites like also offer useful information.

According to Kate Bahen, the managing director of Charity Intelligence Canada in Toronto, "Giving can make a difference in people's lives. But you've got to give smart."

Launched in 2006, Bahen's non-profit organization researches and analyzes Canadian charities, ranking them in an annual list designed to help donors make informed choices.

Charity Intelligence Canada currently has reports on 360 charities, a number Bahen hopes to increase to 1,000 in the next three years.

"If they're a food bank, we looked at how they distributed food. If they're a hospice, we looked at how they help people with cancer. We've found many gems people have never heard of," said Bahen.

No matter what charity you choose, here are some simple strategies to maximize the spirit of giving for good.

1. "First and foremost, think about what's important to you," said Balliro. "The key is to find philanthropic spaces online that you trust and charities that you feel passionate about in your heart and soul."

2. Ask for time to make informed decisions. "So often we pick up the phone and there's a voice on the other end asking for help. Don't be pressured," said Balliro. "Ask for information to be sent to your home. Read it carefully to make sure it's a cause you believe in."

3. Don't assume your gift of charity will please everyone. People often donate on behalf of loved ones during the holidays. "We just assume that our choices will match their interests. That isn't always true," said Bahen. To make this gift more meaningful, opt for a donation gift card. At consumers can print off gift certificates for charitable donations. "It's not the prettiest gift certificate and there's a 5 per cent transaction fee. But it gets the job done," said Bahen. "Simply load the card with the sum you want and let the recipient pick how they wish to donate."

4. Never underestimate the value of time. "The gift of your time to a charity is immeasurable," said Balliro. For example, Balliro is personally driven to donate her time to charities that eliminate childhood poverty. "Getting out there and rolling up your sleeves makes people feel good. It really puts things into perspective," she said.

5. Restaurant-hop less, give more. Instead of spending a fortune on a family dinner at a splashy restaurant, donate that money to a food bank. "It's such a simple thing to do, but its impact on those less fortunate is huge," said Balliro.

6. Teach children to get the VISA out of Christmas. "Parents have to be role models," said Bahen. Take kids to soup kitchens, visit homeless shelters. Whatever you choose, it will make youngsters more grateful for all that they have and more appreciative of the true spirit of the season.

Check back every Wednesday and Friday for a new instalment in's gift-giving guide.