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Donate carefully this holiday season

POSTED: December 11, 2013 11:31 p.m.

Many people consider giving to charity this time of year, but not every organization deserves your donations.

With some organizations only passing along a few cents of every donated dollar to intended recipients and scammers who work overtime during the holiday season, it can be difficult to make sure your money goes to the right charities.

“You should definitely do your own research on an organization before you give them anything,” said Callie Flack, vice president of programs for the North Georgia Community Foundation.

“It can be something as simple as looking at their website, the types of programs they run and their board of directors.”

All charities are required to keep financial records open to the public, and most provide annual reports on their websites, she said. These can be used to understand the financial status and efficiency of the organization.
Also, look for proof a charity is recognized as a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit by the IRS.

According to Flack, some organizations spend a disproportionate amount of money on salaries and operational costs instead of programs, but there is no strict rule of how much is too much.

“Some people will say they shouldn’t spend more than 10 percent on operations, and that is a decent rule of thumb, but it is not the most important thing because all organizations have operation costs,” she said. “You should look to see if it is a good ratio, but also look at past programs and at how successful they were.”

Another way to ensure your donations are being used wisely is to give to local groups instead of national organizations.

“Donating locally makes sure your dollars stay in and help improve your community,” she said. “A lot of the time people think that if they donate to (a) national charity, their money will funnel down to local branches, and that isn’t always true.”

There are bigger threats than inefficient and misrepresented organizations as well. Scams and identity theft are year-round dangers, but they become more frequent in the holiday season, according to Chad Mann, community services officer for the Hall County Sheriff’s Office.

“Always safeguard your personal and financial identity,” he said. “Legitimate charities don’t need that information.”

Personal information such as your address, Social Security number and bank account numbers should never be given away, he said. Additionally, you should always avoid paying with credit or debit cards because that information is easily accessed and exploited by criminals.

One major red flag to watch for is when solicitors ask you to wire money via Western Union or Green Dot’s MoneyPak, Mann said.

Solicitations come in a variety of forms, over the telephone, in the mail or via the Internet. Though the methods are not always cause for alarm, donors should consider the organization before giving it money.

“If you don’t know the organization, do your homework before you give them anything,” Mann said.

There are online resources that track legitimate charities and how they use money.

The Georgia secretary of state’s office suggests using websites such as the Better Business Bureau’s www.give.org and www.GuideStar.org, which is run by a nonprofit that monitors charity organizations, to properly vet nonprofits before donating.

If you think you may have been solicited by a fraudulent organization, you can call the Hall County Sheriff’s Office at 770-531-6900 during the week or the nonemergency dispatch number at 770-536-8812 on weekends.


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