Nov 24, 2013

Check on those charities

As we approach the end of the year, charitable giving ramps up. You may want to make a charitable contribution out of pure kindness, for the income tax and estate tax benefits, or maybe a bit of both. Whatever your reasons, legitimate charities can certainly use your help.

If you are planning on contributing to a charity before 2013 comes to a close, I urge you to make sure that your gift really goes to a good cause and a legitimate organization. CNN and the Center for Investigative Reporting recently conducted a study of America's worst charities - and there are plenty of them.  One of the major offenders was the Tennessee-based Cancer Fund of America. The name has a ring to it, but don't be fooled - a mere 1% of every dollar it collected went to benefit patients and families. The charity's founders, the Reynolds family, pocketed a hefty portion of the funds, with the biggest portion of the $110 million it collected over the past three-year period  - $75 million -- going to paid solicitors.  And by the way, Cancer Fund of America was not even the worst of the worst. The Florida-based Kids Wish Network took that "honor." See the list of America's worst charities.

I suggest keeping away from solicitors on the street or who come to your door. Those appeals may be bogus. Instead, contribute to your organization of choice via website or mail after you make sure that the website and mailing address are valid. Case in point: The police in Columbus, Ohio reported earlier this year that one Mr. Joseph Stewart had gone door to door, collecting thousands of dollars for the Wounded Warrior Project. That charity IS legitimate (website here) but Stewart certainly was not. He merely used the name of the organization to rip off well-intentioned and unsuspecting donors. 

Before giving to any charity, do your homework to make sure the charity is authentic. One good online tool is the comprehensive Charity Navigator. You can also find out if your donation is tax-deductible by using the Internal Revenue Service's new charity checking tool. 

I hope you will share this information with your friends and family. Your holidays will be happiest if you are confident that your good intentions and hard-earned dollars are going to those who truly deserve them. 

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