Looking for a good beach read? Instead of a whodunit, consider solving a different mystery. This is a good time to do some investigating on the charities you donated to last year and might donate to again later this year.

Most people don't think about charitable giving until the end of the year, and when the time comes, they often find themselves so caught up in holiday activities and robotically repeat what they did the year before. But if you start doing research now, you can make more informed decisions when December rolls around.

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"Now's the time you can sit on the beach or by the pool, get your iPad out and say, 'How are these charities doing that I invested in six months ago?'" says Eileen Heisman, chief executive of National Philanthropic Trust, a not-for-profit organization that advises large donors, foundations and financial institutions. "You can do research now instead of crunching it into a very short period of time."

You do not have to donate or even decide on the amount of a donation now. Most people like to wait until near the end of the year when they have a better idea about their financial condition and how much they can afford to give. What you're hoping to accomplish is to have a well-researched list of charities you will feel good about donating to later in the year. Heisman recommends keeping your list short with no more than three or four charities and causes.

Heisman says you should begin your charity checkup at the organization's website. Make sure the charity's mission is still consistent with your objectives. Next, you should use online sites that track the performance of charities. The most popular of these sites are GuideStar (guidestar.org), Charity Navigator (charitynavigator.org) and the Better Business Bureau (give.org). If possible, Heisman says also try to talk with people involved with the charity or with other donors.

Additionally, the IRS has a Select Check tool (nwsdy.li/selectcheck) that tells you if an organization is a qualified charity, meaning you will be able to take a deduction on your taxes for your gift. Select Check doesn't include most churches, synagogues, temples and mosques, but donations to religious organizations are tax-deductible.

As for how much you should give, everything helps. "It's all relative to what wealth you have and what you're able to do," Heisman says. "I don't think a $100 gift is any less important than a $1,000 gift."