Do's and Don'ts for Holiday Charitable Donations

Give Locally If You Can

If your goal is to combat global warming, or to alleviate hunger in Africa, you of course need to find a charity that works internationally. But otherwise, look for local groups in your community. They're easier to research, you can literally see the impact of your support and their success leads to the direct betterment of your community. If you have smart friends, ask them what groups in town they prefer to donate to.

So now you know what you're looking for in a charity this holiday season. What are things you should be looking out for and trying to avoid with your holiday giving?

Politely Decline the Clipboards on the Street

The area where we find the most fraud is with the clipboard people in the street or those knocking at your door. Think about it -- ever see Harvard or the Red Cross going door to door or trying to track you down in your city's streets? Too often, these are disreputable groups, with little to no accountability.

Sadly, there's enough fraud here that I would recommend that you don't give any money to people with clip boards on your street or to those jars at your convenience store. The truth is that charity giving should feel corporate or clinical, and if anything about your donation doesn't feel completely professional, there's a decent chance you're about to get scammed

Never Give Over the Phone

Be wary of fundraisers who pressure you to make a contribution over the phone. Never divulge your credit card information to someone soliciting you via the phone. Instead, ask the fundraiser to send you written information about the charity they represent and do some research on your own. Once you feel comfortable with the charity, send the organization a check directly in the mail, or give through their Web site, thus ensuring 100 percent of your gift goes to the charity and not the for-profit fundraiser.

Many phone calls soliciting charitable donations come from for-profit professional telemarketers that keep a sizable portion of your donation for themselves and don't really care about the cause they're promoting. Find out if the person with whom you are speaking works for a telemarketing company or is a volunteer or employee of the charity itself. Professional, for-profit telemarketers typically negotiate their fees ahead of time and know exactly how much of every dollar raised goes to the charity and how much stays with the telemarketer.

Companies often charge the charity 50 to 90 cents of each dollar raised. Ask the person on the other end of the line to tell you how much of your donation will actually end up with the charity. By law, they must tell you.

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