Is Your Charity Charitable?

in Charity

There are millions of charities wanting your. How can you determine which ones deserve your money? How do you even know which ones are legitimate?

If you haven't already, you'll be getting a myriad of phone calls from many worthy (and not-so-worthy) causes that need your money. Even more solicitations will come by mail. And occasionally an individual will show up at your front door looking for a donation.

First, remember you cannot do it all. Do not succumb to a sales pitch. Many charities hire professional fund raisers who are very skilled at getting your money. So before you give to any charity, first determine your values. What part of your budget do you feel right about giving to charity?

Next, look at your preferences. You know how much you can give; now look at what types of organizations you want to support. From GuideStar.com (more on them later), I came up with several questions to ask yourself:

  • "What is important to me?" Do you want to concentrate on the environment, education, hunger, animals, orphans?
  • "Where should the charity do its work?" Do you want to concentrate on local initiatives or more global causes?
  • "What type of charity do I want to support?" Do you want a large older one that is very organized with decades of examples of their work? Or do you prefer a newer, smaller charity that is a bit more nimble and cutting-edge, but may not be completely focused yet?

By answering these questions you can then begin your research and pick the charities that you want to support. Note the process: you pick the charities...don't wait for the charities to call, write, or visit and pick you. When they do, and if they match your criteria, then you can do the research to see if you want to add them to your giving list.

How do you do that research? There are many web sites that contain data on charities. On Guidestar.org after registering (free) you can look up a charity and obtain their 990 Form. That's their annual filing with the IRS. In it you can see their income and expenses, including how much money goes to programs, staff, and fundraising activities.

Another great source is the Better Business Bureau. The BBB runs the Give.org website, the home of the BBB Wise Giving Alliance. By selecting "Charity Reports" you can look up thousands of charities. The BBB does not evaluate the worthiness of a particular charity, instead they look to see whether they meet 20 standards for accountability.

Neither site lists every legitimate charity, but it is a start.

In any case, when you do decide who you want to support:

  • Put it in your budget (even if that's a piggy bank on the coffee table),
  • Make your check payable to the charity, not the collector
  • Do not give cash (okay, you can drop some money in the red buckets)
  • Revisit your preferences, the charities, and your budget each year to make sure that they still match your values.

Most charitable giving is initiated by an emotional tug at the heart. There is nothing wrong with that. It means you are human. Just temper it with research, logic, patience, and purpose.

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Gary Silverman has 1 articles online

Gary Silverman, CFP is the founder of Personal Money Planning, an investment management and financial planning firm located in Wichita Falls, Texas. You can sign up for his weekly e-Newsletter at http://www.PersonalMoneyPlanning.com

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Is Your Charity Charitable?

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This article was published on 2010/04/02