Giving to Charity
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Is it a Real Charity or a Scam?

Many of the so-called charities that solicit you for donations are scams, or most of the money raised actually goes to the telemarketers and not to the charity. So how do we know that the money we donate is spent as we intend? There are several websites that can help you be a savvy contributor.

Charity Navigator
Other Charity Watchdog Websites

Tips When Making Donations
     What to Do When a Charity Calls
     6 Questions To Ask Charities Before Donating
     Tips for Older Donors
     How to Stop Solicitations by Mail

Avoid Online Scams & Hoaxes
     Avoid Online Charity-Giving Scams
          Why a Charity Might Not Appear on Charity Watch Websites

Charity Navigator

One of the most comprehensive websites to help you give wisely is Charity Navigator at, which only analyzes and reports on public charities.

TIME Magazine has called the Charity Navigator website "One of America's 50 Coolest Websites for 2006", the site is a two-time Forbes award winner for "Best of the Web", was selected by Reader's Digest as one of the "100 Best Things about America", and was chosen by PC World as "One of America's Top Websites". In 2007, Business Week inducted Charity Navigator into its "Philanthropy Hall of Fame" for "revolutionizing the process of giving." Charity Navigator was singled out in 2006 and 2007 by Kiplinger's Financial Magazine as "One of the Best Services to Make Life Easier" and Esquire Magazine recently told its readers that using their service was one of "41 Ways to Save the World".

The website rates nonprofit charities across the country, uses pie charts and bar charts to summarize their financial data for the amount they spend on fundraising, administrative costs, and for the charity's programs, and gives the charity up to a 4-star rating. It provides tips for gift-giving, identifies the best and worst charities (you'd be surprised at some of those getting low ratings), provides guides for giving and volunteering, and allows you to look up the charity you are considering supporting, and much more, including informative videos.

As of December 2007, Charity Navigator recommended donors' support concerns that meet six criteria:

  1. Able to communicate who they are and what they do
  2. Defined short-term and long-term goals
  3. Able to state the progress it has made (or is making) toward its goal
  4. Programs make sense to the donor
  5. Trustworthy
  6. Programs that the donor feels she can make a long-term commitment to

In December of 2008, President and CEO Ken Berger announced that the organization will be expanding its rating system to include measures of the outcomes of the work of charities it evaluates. This was described in further detail in a podcast for The Chronicle of Philanthropy in September of 2009. The plan for a revised rating system will also include measures of accountability (including transparency, governance and management practices), as well as outcomes (the results of the work of the charity).

Other Charity Watchdog Websites

The following websites are worth visiting and are invaluable in determining which charities are worthy of your support and help. Use them in good health and with an open heart, especially during this holiday season. Open your wallets, but donate to real charities (don't be scammed) and charities that are well managed, where most of your donations go to the programs you care about and want to support.

  • American Institute of Philanthropy (AIP):
    Top-Rated Charities: This website gives A F ratings and also evaluates social welfare groups that are not eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions such as the ACLU, Human Rights Campaign, League of Women Voters, NARAL Pro Choice America, National Right to Life Committee, and Sierra Club.
  • Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance:
    This website also includes some good information, but I found a couple links that didn't work, and it is not as comprehensive as AIP and Charity Navigator, and does not cover as many charities.
  • Florida's Division of Consumer Services:
    This is Florida's gift-givers' guide to charities. You can check on a so-called charity, get tips for giving, report a non-registered organization/charity, and get a wealth of information.

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