This time of year strikes me as the perfect time to take a moment, think of others and if you are able, to make a contribution to a charity or two. As you consider potential charities, those you may be already familiar with or a new one, it is worth remembering that there are some definitive do’s and don’ts. Giving wisely requires some due diligence.
If able, do give. Even a small amount will be appreciated by the charities you choose to contribute to this Holiday season. Prior to pulling out that credit card and making a contribution, do conduct some research. Ensure that the charities you are considering are good stewards of the money you are contributing, are accountable, and are transparent.
As an example, check the ratio of contributions a charity spends on funding programs (higher is generally better) and spends on administrative costs (lower is generally better). Useful sites for conducting research include the Better Business Bureau and Charity Navigator.
Do donate online. If making a monetary contribution, the best way to avoid being scammed is to donate to reputable organizations you have researched, through their website. Your transactions will be secure – look for “https” and a lock icon in the address bar when providing credit/debit card information – and you will receive a receipt of the transaction. Generally you can print the receipt immediately after the transaction is complete and/or the receipt will be sent to your email address. Once you have contributed, do hang on to your Receipt. Donating to your favorite charity has the added benefit of allowing you to reduce your tax liability. Ensure that you keep all of your receipts and have them ready when you prepare your tax returns or see your tax preparer. The amount you are able to deduct will depend on your adjusted gross income (AGI) and the type of donation made.
If someone solicits a contribution at your home, don’t make a cash contribution. Instead, ask for the website address of the charity. Any reputable charity will allow you to make contributions online. Going directly to the source for your contributions is the easiest, most secure approach. Don’t make a contribution to an organization that is not a registered charity. Tax deductions can only be claimed for donations to registered charities.
You can check the registration status on sites such as the Better Business Bureau and Charity Navigator. Once you have identified a charity, check its IRS/Tax status. As an example, such an indication might read, “This organization is tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. It is eligible to receive contributions deductible as charitable donations for federal income tax purposes.”
If donating goods to a local organization (e.g. Goodwill), don’t leave items unattended outside a collection center; don’t leave items that have been recalled, banned, or do not meet current safety standards; and don’t leave items that are soiled or broken.
If you are not in a position to donate goods or monetarily, there are likely any number of worthwhile organizations in your area that could use volunteers during this time of year. A contribution of time is often just as valuable as a monetary contribution.
Whether you decide to contribute to a charity that is already known to you, or you decide to seek out a new charity, please conduct your due diligence to ensure the organization is worth your time and/or money.
My charity of choice is Children’s Burn Foundation – http://childburn.org/ – to which my wife and I donate a few times a year. The charity was first brought to my attention in 2007 when I read the story of Yousuf, a 10-year-old boy who was set on fire by unknown perpetrators outside his home in Iraq.