Be a Wise Giver during the Holidays

 By State Senator Julie Lassa

The holiday season is the busiest time of year for charitable giving. According to the Center on Philanthropy, the average person makes 24 percent of their annual donations between Thanksgiving and New Year's.  It’s a time when those in need are in our thoughts, and when we may also be interested in donating to charity before the end of the tax year.  It’s not surprising, then, that solicitations for various good causes fill our mailboxes, phone lines and email inboxes in December.

 

Unfortunately, it’s also a time when it’s easy to be taken advantage of by organizations that may not be what they seem.  In a few instances, the appeal might be an outright scam; in others, the cause is legitimate but the fundraiser may be keeping a large share of the proceeds.

 

We all want our gifts to charities to do the most good, and not be eaten up in fundraising fees or excessive administrative costs. Just as we try to get the most for our dollar in other purchases, it’s a good idea to do a little homework to make sure you’re getting the best value in your charitable giving as well.

 

Here are some suggestions to make sure that you’re getting the most charitable “bang for the buck” this holiday season.

 

Have a giving plan.  Rather than waiting to respond to an appeal, be proactive in your giving.  Decide what kinds of charities you want to support and how much you want to give; then research your options and make your gift.  Having a giving plan will help you make wise choices, and it will be easier to resist potentially questionable appeals when you know you’re already doing your part.

 

Don’t give in to pressure. Phone solicitors may play on your sympathies to get you to make a quick decision.  A reputable organization will respect your decision-making and give you time to make a reasoned choice on your own schedule.

 

Learn as much as you can. Especially if it’s an organization you’ve never heard of before, take the time to learn about the charity that’s soliciting you.  Request a copy of the group’s annual report or other printed information.  Check to see if the charity has a website with information about its finances and the results it achieves. Websites such as CharityChoices.com and CharityNavigator.org can help you learn whether a charity is legitimate and efficiently run, and whether your gift will qualify for a tax deduction.

 

Skip the middle man. Telephone solicitations are often done by for-profit call centers that solicit for many charities.  In some instances, such operations keep as much as 90 percent of what they raise; but even if the overhead is not that high, any part of your contribution that goes to pay a fundraiser doesn’t go to the work of the charity.  If you’re truly interested in supporting a charity, hang up the phone and make out a check directly to the group.

 

Beware of sound-alikes.  Would you know the difference between Disabled American Veterans, a well-respected national organization, and Disabled Veterans of America, whose founder was sent to prison for running the fake charity?  Scam artists will often give their groups names that sound similar to well-known charities.  Another reason to be cautious and do careful research before you give. 

 

Charitable giving, no matter the amount, is a great way to celebrate the holidays.  It feels wonderful to help people in need and organizations that are doing important work.  With a little caution and a little research, you can give with confidence, and be sure your gift is doing the good work you intend it to do.