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World Aids Day At Apple Store Berlin
On Wednesday, Apple started selling red-colored products to benefit HIV/AIDS research.
Adam Berry—Getty Images for Apple

Before you rush out to buy a red iPhone case to support AIDS research this holiday season, you might want to consider whether your donation is being put to its best use.

Since 2006, Product (RED) has partnered with a number of major corporations, including Apple and Gap, to donate a part of their proceeds to AIDS research. On Wednesday, for instance, Apple ramped up the number of red-colored products—like the iPhone 7 battery pack case and Beats Solo 3 Wireless headphones—for which it will donate an undisclosed percentage of profits to charity.

(RED)'s CEO Deb Dugan told USA Today this week that the organization has hauled in $360 million since its creation and has affected the lives of 70 million people who suffer from HIV/AIDS. However, (RED) has come under fire in recent years by critics who say the group's ad spending outpaces the impact the program has on AIDS-related causes.

In 2007, Ad Age reported that Product (RED) retail participants had invested $100 million in (RED) advertising, but had raised just $18 million to support AIDS research itself. The findings raised the question: Is there a need for a retail middleman between a donor and a charity?

In short, no. If you're looking to make the biggest impact on AIDS research, your best bet is likely to donate directly to an AIDS-related organization. There are a number of reputable charities you can choose from, including the Elton John AIDS Foundation, amfAR and the Gay Men's Health Crisis, said Sandra Miniutti, vice president of marketing for Charity Navigator, which rates philanthropic organizations.

But if you are already shopping at Apple or another partner, buying (Red) can benefit HIV/AIDS research. Apple products in particular account for one-third of the company's donations since 2006.

Here's a complete list of AIDS-related philanthropic organizations recommended by Charity Navigator.