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Should I Give To Charity?

How should you respond to the numerous calls, letters, and other solicitations
for donations you get throughout the year?

  Very carefully, but generously, after you’ve done your homework and
found it is a legitimate cause, suggest officials of the American Institute
of Philanthropy.

Giving money to a charity is like investing your money in that organization,
notes the Financial Sentinel Observer, a Florida-based newsletter. And, “As
with all investments, you expect your money to be well-spent,” the publication

  Before writing a check in response to a request via telephone or mail,
“ask for printed information” about the charity and its cost of doing business,
which “allows you to make an educated pressure-free decision.”

  The finest charities will disclose exactly how your money will be spent
to help others.

  Most nonprofit groups should allot at least 60 percent of donations
to services rather than to administrative and fund-raising expenses.

  The Internet has seen a surge in charitable requests, with splashy “donate
now” graphics beckoning on many sites.

While less than 5 percent of Web surfers have used the Internet to make a donation,
that still adds up to 3.5 million people giving to 620,000 nonprofit charities.

  Generally, all you have to do is give a credit-card number. Donors should
avoid charity sites without a clearly stated privacy policy that excludes your
e-mail address from mailing lists. This will keep away unwanted direct solicitation.

E-commerce Web sites that sell products are promoting charity too, hoping the
“do-good” affiliations will help them stand out in the dot-com crowd.

  The sites promise to donate a portion of the money you spend on merchandise
to a designated charity.

  Merchant rebates to the charity Web site often range from 3 percent
to 25 percent of a product’s price. Most sites keep a fraction of the rebates
as profit and send the rest on to the charity.

  “This is not philanthropy,” cautions the National Charities Information
Bureau, a watchdog group. “This is marketing.”

If you’re worried about giving out your credit-card number over the telephone
or Internet but you want to contribute, consider giving surplus merchandise,
such as outgrown clothing or soon-to-be-obsolete electronic gizmos, to local

Donations to Goodwill Industries International Inc. have climbed 40 percent
in the past five years. The Salvation Army notes that while “kettle” cash contributions
have struggled recently, merchandise gifts have risen.

  There are plenty of used items to pass along because Americans have
been buying at a record pace. Personal-consumption expenditures, which include
everything from clothing to furniture, rose 7 percent last year, according to
the U.S. Commerce Department.

  There are some tax benefits to charitable giving. Handing over cash
is pretty easy to track because most folks write a check. But, according to
the IRS, fewer than 15 percent of tax returns claim deductions for noncash contributions
to charities.

If you do give noncash items, get a receipt. And if the donation is valued at
over $15,000, you’ll need a professional appraisal to satisfy the IRS.

Protect Yourself From Telephone Fraud

  • Get the name, address, and phone number of the company.

    oCheck its track record with the Better Business Bureau, or the state or local
    consumer protection agency.

    oDo not give out your Social Security number or bank account number to solicitors,
    and be very careful about giving out your credit-card number unless you are
    absolutely sure this is a legitimate charitable organization.

    oDon’t send money to a caller if he or she wants a fee before you can collect
    a prize you’ve been told you’ve won.

    oDon’t act on impulse. Hang up if the caller says “Act now. Don’t delay.”

If you would like to reduce national telephone solicitation calls to your home,
write the Telephone Preference Service. Include your name, address, area code,
and telephone number on a note and mail it to Telephone Preference Service,
Direct Marketing Association, P.O. Box 9014, Farmingdale, NY 11735-9014. There
is no charge for this service.

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