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How to Make Wise Choices About Charitable Donations

November 25th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Donating to a Shelter?  Make Sure Your Money Goes to the Dogs

Donating to a Shelter? Make Sure Your Money Goes to the Dogs

Make Sure Your Charitable Donation Really Helps Those in Need

During the holiday season, many people feel moved to open their hearts and wallets to try and help those who are less fortunate.  There are many wonderful charitable organizations that do a lot of good work with the monetary donations people provide.

There are other charitable organizations that end up spending most of the money they receive on fund-raising and other expenses.  Not that there is anything inherently wrong with administrative spending and fund-raising.  After all, there are expenses involved in running a charity, and fund-raising plays an important role in helping many charities stay alive.

BBB Says at Least 65% Should go to Charitable Activities

But how much is too much for a charity to spend on telemarketers and other fund-raising efforts?  The Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance Standards for Charity Accountability suggests that charitable organizations should spend at least 65% of their total expenses on program activities (the actual “charity” part of the equation), and no more than 35% of the money you donate on fund-raising.

Want to Know Where Your Money is Going When You Donate to Charity?

If you want to know how your donations of money are being used by a charity, there are a couple of easy ways to find out.  Charities that meet all of the BBB’s Standards for Charity Accountability can receive accreditation through the BBB.  The website provides a National Charity Report Index that makes it easy to search for information about charities that are BBB accredited.

Charities are not legally required to submit information and seek accreditation through the BBB, but many reputable charities do so.  If a charity has received BBB accreditation, you can be sure that most of the money you donate to the charity will be going to the actual work of the charity.

Charity Navigator is an independent charity evaluator that provides information about many of the largest charities in the United States.  They have a searchable database that gives a detailed breakdown of each listed charity’s revenue and how that revenue is used.  Charity Navigator evaluates only public charities in the U.S. (that is, charities that are tax exempt under § 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and that must file IRS Form 990).

Another good source of information about public charities can come from your state’s government websites.  Many states require that all public charities that solicit donations within the state comply with the state’s charity registration laws.  For example, Florida’s Solicitation of Contributions Act regulates the solicitation of public contributions and requires full disclosure of certain types of information from those who solicit charitable contributions in Florida.

The Florida Division of Consumer Services website has a great deal of valuable information, including a Gift Giver’s Guide that allows Floridians to access information about specific charities registered in Florida.

Incidentally, we decided to check the State of Florida registration for Animal Friends Society, Inc. The rescue organization from which we adopted Lucy, devotes an impressive 89% of its total revenue to program services.  By doing a little homework, I know that when I give to Animal Friends Society, the money really goes to the dogs.

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