This is the time to be careful in your giving

It is a time for giving.

The mailboxes of many of us are filled with requests for donations to charities.

This is especially true this time of year. A large proportion of donations is normally made between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Much of this is due to the current benefits of the income tax deductions.

I have received enough sticky address labels with donation requests to last several lifetimes. The same goes for calendars and notepads. The labels gum up my shredder as I destroy them to keep them from falling into the wrong hands.

Americans are a generous people. We are more than willing to help those in need. Many of our charities are far more efficient at this task than our government programs. Most private and religious charities have less overhead, fraud and waste. Funds and services are often performed by volunteers and go directly to those in need.

Deciding where to contribute is not always an easy decision. Sometimes we donate just because we have heard of the organization. This may or may not be a good idea.

There are estimated to be about one million charities in America. Most are operated well and serve their purpose. However, even some with well-known names are operated poorly and are very ineffective.

Some pay their chief operating officers absurdly high salaries. Others spend very high amounts on pay for professional fund-raisers. Some charities are so poorly managed that they have spent more than they have raised. They may even have been operating at a deficit for several years.

A good place to check on different charities is the http://www.charitynavigator.org/website. It has a lot of information on many charities. Be prepared for some surprises. You will find some well-known charities that are not managed very well. The website does list some other charities that do the same tasks that have better ratings.

You can check the record of many charities on Charity Navigator. Not all charities are listed, but many are. There are top 10 lists for many charity characteristics, both good and bad.

I was shocked to find that the YWCA USA was one of the worst managed charities. It is one of the 10 that has been operated in the red for more than three years. It is no coincidence that the chief executive officer of this organization is extremely well paid at $357,280.

The 10 best practices of savvy donors are also listed on Charity Navigator. Some of these are:

Don’t give in a knee-jerk fashion by responding to any request. Determine what is important to you and your family and give toward those goals.

Hang up the phone or ignore the email solicitation and eliminate the middleman.

For-profit fund-raisers keep a large portion of the donations they raise.
Be alert for sound-alike names. These are often used to scam donors.
Confirm the 501(c)(3) status of the organization to be able to claim a tax deduction.

Check the charity’s commitment to accountability and transparency.

Get information on the charity’s financial records. A good charity will spend at least 75 percent of funds on programs and services and less than 25 percent for fund-raising and administrative fees.

Concentrate your giving where it will do the most good.

This is a good time of year to contribute to causes that help people who are in need. However, we all should want to do it in a way that is both efficient and effective. Hopefully the information at Charity Navigator will help us to do that.
Also remember our local food shelves, charities and churches. They do important work to help our neighbors in this economy.

Chuck Drury is an Anoka resident, retired engineer and former technical director of Federal Cartridge Company.

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