Give Wisely this Holiday Season
'Tis the season of giving. With rising operating costs, loss of government funding and an increasing demand for services, charities need donors' help now more than ever. Donating to your favorite cause can be fulfilling, but to ensure that your gift reaches the intended source, follow these tips:
- Give to an established charity. Unfortunately, there are fraudulent charities that will take advantage of your goodwill. A legitimate charity will give you information about its mission, how your donation will be used and proof that your contribution is tax deductible. Find a charity with a proven track record for providing aid.
- Ask questions. Some charities hire professional fundraisers to call or send mail solicitations, and the fundraisers collect fees from donations. Ask the caller if he or she is a volunteer or a professional fundraiser. Ask how much of your donation actually goes to the charity. If it's a charity and not a professional fundraiser, ask how much of your donation goes toward administrative expenses. If you don't get straight answers, that's a red flag.
- Ask phone solicitors to send written information. Check out the charity before you make a decision. Be suspicious if they insist on a pledge before they'll send you information. Check them out at the national Better Business Bureau "wise giving" site, www.give.org, or America's largest charity evaluator site, www.charitynavigator.org.
- Be proactive. Wise givers don't give on an impulse or to the first organization that comes along. Smart givers take time to identify the causes important to them. Contact a charitable organization to find out its mission and what type of aid and programs it offers. Work with charities that have targeted outcome for donations.
- Don't be fooled by a sympathetic name. Some operations use names that promise more than they deliver. Many causes clearly deserve generous public support, including veterans, law enforcement and fire fighters, but some marginal operations claim connections with such groups yet provide them with very little support. Contact your local police or fire department or veterans' organization to check out claims that a donation "will be used locally." If a charity's name sounds similar but not identical to a charity you're familiar with, contact the charity you know to check it out.
- Don't give your credit card or checking account numbers over the phone to someone you don't know. Resist high-pressure pitches to give now. Trust your instinct if something doesn't seem right.
- Consider giving your time. Volunteers are the foundation of many charitable organizations. If you can't afford to donate money, consider donating your time. Common volunteer duties include: stuffing envelopes, feeding animals, tutoring, building homes, serving as a museum docent, counseling those in crisis, selling tickets or answering phone calls.
- Take advantage of tax benefits. A donation to a qualified organization may entitle you to a charitable contribution deduction. Remember a contribution to a qualified charity is deductible only in the year in which it is paid, and all charities do not qualify for a charitable contribution deduction. Always ask for a receipt and save them for tax time.
- Bottom line: Give wisely! Giving to a known charity you're confident about is often the best option.