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Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2007 06:20 am

Giving wisely

How to find the best charity for donations

Untitled Document According to the Chicago-based American Institute of Philanthropy, 1.8 million nonprofit organizations are out there hoping to win your donation dimes or dollars. Having so many charities available raises some important questions: How do you responsibly choose where to give — and how can you know whether you’ve selected a legitimate organization? Where can you look for reliable information on individual charities — and, once you have decided which one you would like to support, how can you stop the deluge of other solicitations that waste not only your time but precious paper as well? Daniel Borochoff, president and founder of the American Institute of Philanthropy, points out one solid way to evaluate an organization asking for donations. He says, “One sign that a charity is not legitimate is if the charity or its representatives pressure a donor to give immediately. A legitimate charity would never pressure a donor in such a manner.”
Another great piece of advice comes from Bennett Weiner, chief operating officer of the BBB Wise Giving Alliance. Bennett says, “The most helpful thing is to either ask the charity for written information on its programs and finances and/or seek out additional facts from outside sources.” Bennett’s advice touches on one of the most important features of legitimate charity work; transparency. Avoid any group that will not disclose the names of its board of directors or does not provide annual financial reports. You should be able to see exactly how a charity manages its donations and resources. There are many organizations out there to which you can turn for information on a particular charity. Here are some resources that will help you weed out the good from the bad and cut down on the unwanted solicitations that flood your mailbox: • www.charitywatch.org (American Institute of Philanthropy, P.O. Box 578460, Chicago, IL 60657; 773-529-2300).
The site has a tips section that offers specific things to look for (and look out for) when considering a charity. Check out the articles section, which has lots of information, including a printable form that you can mail to help prevent unwanted solicitations. When you send this form, you can ask that the charity remove your name from its list, limit the solicitations it sends, or request it not rent or sell your information to others without your permission. This is a terrific way to cut down on the amount of paper being sent to your home. • www.give.org (BBB Wise Giving Alliance, 4200 Wilson Blvd., Suite 800, Arlington, VA 22203; 703-276-0100).
This site gives detailed information on everything from how to donate a car to what to look for if you are considering sponsoring a child. There is an alphabetized index of charities that you can search for information and a section for inquiries or complaints. • http: //www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/telemarketing/tel01.shtm (Federal Trade Commission).
This site offers a good checklist of precautions to take when evaluating a charitable organization and a place to file an online complaint if you feel that you have been treated badly by a particular charity. • www.guidestar.org offers consumer access at no charge to information on more than 1.7 million nonprofit organizations listed in its database. • www.nasconet.org (National Association of State Charity Officials). Provides a link to the U.S. state charity offices. The point of contact for charitable solicitations is usually the state attorney general’s office, where you may also file a complaint against an organization. • www.dmaconsumers.org (Direct Marketing Association, Mail Preference Service, P.O. Box 282, Carmel, NY 10512). If you follow the “Consumer Assistance” link, you will be presented with several options for removing your name from mailing lists, cutting down on unwanted mail and solicitations. If you plan on giving a large amount of money, be sure to ask for information on how the donation should be handled on your taxes, and don’t forget to request a receipt. The person handling your gift may not have detailed information on tax write-offs, but he or she should be able to direct you to someone who can advise you. Many good causes out there need financial help. Taking the time to determine which ones are legitimate is made easier by organizations such as the ones listed above. By utilizing their resources and making the effort to reduce those piles of unwanted solicitations, you can be sure to do your part in helping whatever cause you believe in.
Catherine Tully and Joe Wallace are freelance writers based in Chicago. Tully has been published in American Style, Chicagoland Business Elite, Boys’ Life, Dance Teacher, youngARTS, and other publications; Wallace spent 14 years working for Air Force News Agency and has written for Korean Quarterly, American Fitness, Backroads USA, LongIslandExchange.com, Gearwire.com, and other publications.
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