Charity, done right

In these difficult economic times, non-profit organizations are suffering a sharp decline in donations. Less disposable income means that most people are forced to cut back on their charitable giving, getting more selective about which organizations they can support.

If you find yourself needing to whittle down your list of donation recipients, there are some criteria to keep in mind that may help you decide.

* Where does the money go?
This is the #1 consideration for me when I donate. There are so many deserving charities out there, but not all organizations are run as smoothly and efficiently as they should be. The charity you choose should have a proven track record, up-to-date filings with the IRS, and the infrastructure in place to receive and distribute funds in an equitable way. For example, charities staffed by volunteers will have much lower operating costs as those with salaried employees, ensuring that the maximum amount of your donation goes where it’s needed most: the those in need.

* How is the money managed and distributed?
Another priority is to look closely at how the money is dispensed, and by whom. A legitimate charity ought to have an infrastructure in place with checks and balances so that the funds they collect are distributed fairly and equitably. Look for an organization that holds public meetings, has a consistent slate of elected officers, and a Board of Trustees that votes on how money is awarded.

* Always get a receipt!
This would seem like a no-brainer, but make sure you ask the charity if you can obtain a receipt with a copy of their Federal Tax I.D. number (indicating their 501 c 3 status) for tax purposes. If they balk at the idea of giving you one–run! is a great website where you can do a search on a charity and see how it ranks in terms of efficiency. Check it out so that when you do give, you can give wisely.

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