The holiday season is the time of year when people’s minds generally turn toward charitable giving, whether as a general expression of goodwill toward mankind, or more practically, as a desire to maximize tax deductions. Whatever the reason for your largesse, you might have wondered whether your gift should go to a local or to a national charity.

While some needs—such as medical research or global aid—are more appropriately met through national efforts, most basic needs programs are best suited to smaller local agencies: animal welfare, disability services, food & clothing banks, literacy programs, seniors’ and victims’ services, to name a few. The closer the program is to its final beneficiaries, the more efficient and responsive the program can be to evolving needs. Local groups also tend to be “leaner and meaner” in their operating budgets, meaning they’ll put more of your donation directly to work benefitting the needy rather than paying for high overhead, professional fundraisers, and large CEO salaries. Because their operating budgets are significantly smaller, your gift of $500 could make an enormous impact to a local charity, where it would be all but invisible in a national one.

You can see the needs in your own community if you keep your eyes open. Do you know someone who has a child with special needs? Do you see signs in your community for churches that sponsor soup kitchens? Find a cause that speaks to you and make a decision to support it. After all, the more personal the giving is, the greater the personal satisfaction. Of course, wise giving is necessary even for local concerns. Before you write a check, visit an event such as an adopt-a-thon at a local animal shelter to see first-hand how many kittens have been saved and placed, or volunteer for a shift at the soup kitchen to see how it’s run and how many people it serves nightly. That visit will usually give you a pretty good indication of how efficiently it operates, and whether its philosophies mesh with yours. Best of all, you may even find that you are drawn into the action and believe in the cause strongly enough to get more involved. In addition to your financial support, local charities can use volunteers on the ground or even on their board, especially if you are a local business person who can offer expertise or connections to help the charity be more effective.

Sometimes local charities do not have as many options for giving as the larger national concerns. One example is car donations. You may have an unused vehicle that you’d like to donate, but feel that you can only send it to a large charity that advertises its vehicle donation program. Cars Helping Charities is unique in that it can process your donation and send it on to any qualified church or 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization. Can you imagine what an impact such a donation could make for your chosen charity?