According to one Christmas tune, it’s the most wonderful time of the year.

After buying gifts, splurging on holiday outings, traveling and other expenses, it might be a wonder if we have any money left at the end of it.

Among those who want to benefit from our holiday spending sprees are charities. A group in New York in 2012 even started Giving Tuesday, in response to retailers’ Black Friday sales.

Giving Tuesday is the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving and is now a nationwide effort to increase charities’ share of the Christmas goodies. And just as retailers don’t limit sales and marketing to one day or weekend, charities also spread their appeals, in terms of time and efforts.

Mailboxes fill with pleas, TV commercials feature sad children and animals, and telephone calls, emails and texts reinforce the efforts to get our attention and donations.

It’s hard for many Americans to determine which groups do good work. Contributors are often swayed more by emotion – they love animals or want to save the planet, for example – than by knowledge of how their money will actually be used.

There are websites that can help. They include Guidestar.org and Charitynavigator.org. Both provide information about how nonprofit groups operate, based on their tax filings and other information. But they can be difficult to use for those unfamiliar with online searches.

Another good option is to stick close to home, relying on your own knowledge or recommendations from trusted friends or relatives about what groups are doing in your community. It might be the local food pantry or nonprofit childcare center. It could be a local scholarship fund or the United Way, which in most communities still operates with solid standards regarding how donations get used.

Please don’t rely on celebrities or TV commercials to direct your donations. They are most likely to exploit your affections for, say, kids and pets, or prey on your fears and guilt.

Along those same lines, you shouldn’t feel pressured to give by a certain date or time. Reputable nonprofits don’t give deadlines.

Sadly, a growing number of nonprofits aren’t charities at all, but merely political operations and greedy enterprises aimed at enriching their founders. The most noteworthy to be caught breaking the law recently was the Trump Foundation. But it’s only one of many that should be put out of business by enforcement of current laws, and by better restricting the activities of groups that claim charity status with the IRS.

There are ample good causes and good organizations around, so the country doesn’t need charlatans siphoning away charity dollars.

That’s especially true if recent trends continue.

U.S. charity giving by individuals declined in 2018, according to Giving USA, a nonprofit group that has been collecting and analyzing charitable donations for more than 60 years.

Also, fewer Americans appear to be giving to charities. A blog from IUPUI (that’s Indiana University — Purdue University Indianapolis) notes that “While more than two-thirds of Americans donated to charity in 2000, only 55.5 percent gave in 2014.”

And the figures continue to fall.

The trends have some calling for more tax breaks. But reform must also include tighter restrictions on what qualifies as a charity. Taxpayers, generous Americans and Congress should be able to agree on that.

A native of Garden City, Julie Doll is a former journalist who has worked at newspapers across Kansas.