Charity Donation: How to Give It Away Without Losing It All

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For example, American Express through its "Members Give" program allows you make donations to more than a million charities.

You can either donate money through your card, or you can use points to donate money directly to charities.

You can also give "Members Give Charity Certificates" through Amex.

Before using your credit card company to make charitable donations make sure you visit their website to understand any fees that may be associated with your gift.

4. Verify with Better Business Bureau

Charitable giving is not immune to scams. A recent report found that nearly 4,000 scam websites in existence after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The best way to check if a charity is legitimate is to verify it with the Better Business Bureau.

For national charities you can go to the Better Business Bureau's wise giving alliance at www.bbb.org/charity.

They have information on more than 500 national charities.

For local charities, you can check for complaints on your state attorney general's website or through your local Better Business Bureau chapter.

The one thing to note is that many fraudulent charities use very similar names to real charities, possibly even changing one letter.

So it is important that you carefully look at the name when doing your research.

5. Make Sure Charity Is Tax Deductible

You can only deduct a charitable donation if you itemize your deductions.

You must keep receipts for all of donations you give.

For example, text giving during the Haiti earthquake was very popular.

Your phone bill is a valid IRS record as long it contains the name of the organization, how much you have given, and the date of the gift.

If you take a standardized deduction then you are not eligible.

Also, not all organizations are considered eligible for tax donations by the IRS.

They must be what is called a 501(c)3 organization.

Most charities will identify themselves as these types of organizations on their request letters.

If you want to make sure your charity is a 501(c)3 organization, you can search for them on the IRS's publication 78, which is online at www.irs.gov.

Web Extra Tips From Mellody Hobson

If you cannot donate money to a certain charitable organization, then think about donating your time. Charities are always looking for people to volunteer. If you have a certain background like accounting, you could be even more valuable by donating your services.

If a charity contacts you by phone always ask them to send printed materials before you give any personal information. Then verify the printed materials on-line through organizations like the Better Business Bureau. Also never give credit card information over the phone unless you have initiated the call and you trust the organization.

Many employers will match your contributions to certain charities or schools. Check with your human resources department to see what your company's matching policy is -- it could mean extra dollars for your charity at no cost to you.

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