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Checking Out Charities

Brace yourself for a possible flood of charitable requests this holiday season.

Why?

Blame a loophole in the National Do Not Call Registry and a change by the Postal Service on who can use bulk-mail rates to seek charitable contributions.

The National Do Not Call Registry allows people to block their phone numbers from most types of telemarketing calls, but not for charitable solicitations. As for the Postal Service, it used to be that only not-for-profit companies or charities themselves could get bulk-mail rates. Now, however, for-profit companies can get the lower rate if they are working on behalf of a charity.

Most charity watchdog groups recommend that no more than 35 percent of a charity’s expenses go for fund-raising. To find out, check the group’s IRS Form 990, usually posted on its Web site at www.guidestar.org.

Deceitful charitable solicitation is an age-old problem that blossoms primarily during the holiday season, says a spokesperson for AARP. So how should you respond to the calls and letters you get for donations?

What are your goals?
Your first step, suggests GuideStar.org, a charity-information Web site, is to decide what kind of donor you want to be. Do you prefer to donate small amounts to many charities, or focus your giving on fewer groups by making larger gifts? Do you want to keep your dollars close to home, or give to an international organization that will send the money where it’s needed most?

Want a painless way to give money?

Consider shopping through a Web portal that funnels 5 percent or more of what you spend to a charity of your choice. At least half a dozen sites do so, but the amounts that go to charity and your choices of beneficiaries vary widely.

Patronize charitable businesses
CharityMall, www.charitymall.com, offers perhaps the best mix of generous rebates and notable stores, including J. Crew, Gap, and Sony Music Direct.

Be sure to keep monitoring your charities to make certain they live up to their promises.

And consider volunteering. That’s the best way to get to know a charity.

Is the charity legitimate?
There are a number of ways to find out if a charity is legitimate:

  • www.charitywatch.org: The American Institute of Philanthropy lists its top-rated charities.
  • The Better Business Bureau evaluates 500 national charities. Free reports are available from the BBB, Suite 800l, 4200 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, VA 22203.
  • www.guidestar.org: Free Form 990s on charities are available from GuideStar.
  • www.charitynavigator.org: Find out how wisely your donations are spent.






KEYWORD EXCLUSIVE: TIPS FOR WISE GIVING

For additional tips on giving to charities, click here: donations

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