Americans are a charitable people by their very nature, but at no time of the year are they more charitable than right now!
The end of the year offers a great time to clean out your house in preparation for a new year — not to mention reduce your tax bill by giving yourself a smaller taxable income.
Here are some more important tips to keep in mind when donating
Before donating to any charity, you want to be sure that the lion's share of the money will go where it's needed. Every charity has different overhead costs. You can research you favorite charities and learn how much of your donation will go to the intended purpose (vs. how much will go to overhead) at Give.org, CharityWatch.org and CharityNavigator.org.
You should also keep the following in mind:
- Don't feel pressured to give cash. Legitimate charities will take a check.
- Don't give credit card, bank account or personal information to telemarketers. If you want to donate, initiate the call yourself.
- Don't give out your Social Security number!
- Don't give to Internet appeals if the cause does not look legitimate and doesn't check out. Traditional frauds have gone electronic in recent years, giving con artists easy access to thousands of potential victims.
- Don't give in to pressure. Anyone that can't wait for a donation while you check out his or her organization is likely to be a crook.
- Donating an old vehicle? Be aware of special considerations.
- Expect specific information. Ask what kind of relief this organization is going to provide. Don't give to a vague appeal.
- Check out the charity with national, state and local authorities. Established charities register with the Internal Revenue Service. You can search for specific non-profit organizations at IRS.gov.
- Beware of newly formed organizations. If the charity is new, you may have to rely on your relationship with the company or sponsor of the organization to determine whether you trust the group.
- Report abuses to the nearest Better Business Bureau and the State Attorney General's office. Both are listed in local telephone directories. You can also report abuses to the National Fraud Information Center at (800) 876-7060. NFIC also has a web-based complaint form at Fraud.org.
Remember, do give! The reality is scammers are out there. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't be generous. With the sites listed above that vet various charities, you can give with confidence.
Read more: 7 senior scams and how to combat them
A special word about military charities
CharityWatch recently took a look at the best and worst military charities you can donate to on behalf of veterans and handed out "grades" on an A-F scale:
- Army Emergency Relief Fund (A+)
- Air Force Aid Society (A+)
- Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society (A+)
- Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund (A+)
- Fisher House Foundation (A+)
- Armed Services YMCA of the USA (A-)
- National Military Family Association (A)
Ones to avoid
- American Ex-Prisoners of War Service Foundation (F)
- American Veterans Relief Foundation (F)
- AMVETS National Service Foundation (F)
- Freedom Alliance (F)
- Help Hospitalized Veterans/Coalition to Salute America's Heroes (F)
- Military Order of the Purple Heart Service Foundation (F)
- National Veterans Service Fund (F)
- NCOA National Defense Foundation (F)
- Paralyzed Veterans of America (F)
- Vietnow National Headquarters (F)