Check On Charities Before You Donate

Check On Charities Before You Donate

At this time of year when charitable giving peaks, so do mail solicitations, emails and phone calls asking you to give to this or that "worthwhile charity that needs your help." Making the right choices is not always easy, but a little information goes a long way in helping to make the right decisions.

No one really knows how much of the estimated $350 billion donated by Americans to charities in 2014 went into the pockets of scam charity operators, but the list of scam charities compiled by the Tampa Bay Times newspaper (in conjunction with the Center for Investigative Reporting) gives you some idea of how much of your donations actually go to the charity's beneficiaries and how much goes to those running the charities — some of which have names similar to legitimate charities in order to lure you in.  

As the saying goes, "Forewarned is forearmed," so here is the list of "America's Worst Charities" compiled by the Tampa Bay Times in  2014:

Kids Wish Network, raised $139.9 million and paid $115.9 million to solicitors and 2.5% in direct cash aid.

Cancer Fund of America, raised $86.8 million of which $75.4 went to solicitors and 1% to aid cancer victims.

Children's Wish Foundation Int'l, raised $92.7 million, with $61.2 to solicitors and 10.6% to charitable purpose.

Firefighters Charitable Foundation, raised $62.8 million of which $53.8 million went to solicitors and 7.4% to firefighters.

Int'l Union of Police Associations, AFL-CIO, raised $66.6 million, with $50.4 million to solicitors and 0.5% to charitable purpose.

Breast Cancer Relief Foundation, raised $63.9 million, with $44.8 million  to solicitors and 2.2% to charitable purpose.

Others listed by the Tampa Bay Times as giving only a small percentage of the monies donated to the "charity" were the American Association of State Troopers, National Veterans Service Fund, Children's Cancer Fund of America, Children's Cancer Recovery Foundation, Project Cure (Bradenton, FL), Committee for Missing Children, Youth Development Fund, Association for Firefighters and Paramedics, and Woman to Woman Cancer Foundation. There were others listed, but these were considered the worst of the lot.

Consumer Reports, which also compiled a list of charities in 2014, handled its report in a different fashion, noting those that are "high-rated" and "low-rated" in specific categories, as follows: 

Animal Welfare – High-rated were PetSmart Charities (Phoenix) and RedRover (Sacremento).  Low-rated were SPCA Int'l (New York) and Tiger Missing Link Foundation (Tyler, TX).

Blind and Visually Impaired – High-rated was Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind (Smithtown, NY). Low-rated was Heritage for the Blind (Brooklyn,NY)

Cancer – High-rated were Cancer Research Institute (New York) and The Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, (Norwalk, CN.). Low-rated was American Breast Cancer Foundation (Baltimore) and Cancer Survivors' Fund (Missouri City,TX)..

Child Protection – High-rated were Children's Defense Fund (Washington, DC) and Prevent Child Abuse America (Chicago). Low-rated were The Committee for Missing Children (Lawrenceville, GA) and Find The Children (Santa Monica, CA).

Environment – High-rated were Earthworks (Washington, DC) and Environmental Defense Fund (New York). None low rated.

Health – High-rated were Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research (New York) and Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America (New York). Low-rated were Defeat Diabetes Foundation (Madeira Brach, FL) and Childhood Leukemia Foundation (Brick, NJ).

Human Services – High-rated were American Red Cross (Washington, DC) and Catholic Charities USA (Alexandria, VA). Low-rated were Shiloh Int'l Ministries (LaVerne, CA) and Children's Charity Fund (Sarasota, FL).

International Relief & Development – High-rated were Grameen Foundation USA (Washington, DC) and Lutheran World Relief (Baltimore, MD). Low-rated were The Aidmatrix Foundation (Irving, TX) and Children's Lifeline (Clay City, KY).

Mental Health & Disabilities – High-rated were Alzheimer's Foundation of America (New York) and American Fund for Suicide Prevention (New York). Low-rated were Autism Spectrum Disorder Foundation (Schereville, IN) and National Caregiving Foundation (Alexandria, VA).

Police & Firefighter Support – High-rated were New York City Police Foundation (New York) and FDNY Foundation (Brooklyn, NY). Low-rated were Disabled Police Officers Counseling Center (Niceville, FL) and Firefighters Charitable Foundation ( Farmingdale, NY).

Veterans – High-rated were Homes For Our Troops (Taunton, Mass.) and Operation Homefront (San Antonio, TX). Low-rated were National Veterans Services Fund (Darien, CN) and National Vietnam Veterans Foundation (Fort Lauderdale, FL).

To make sure your money is going to the right charity, here are some things you should do before you donate.

  • Ask if the caller is a paid telemarketer.
  • Get the exact name and location of the charity he or she represents.
  • Find out exactly where your donation will go and don't accept generalities.
  • Insist they tell you the exact percentage.
  • Call the local non-profit supposedly benefiting and ask if they've ever heard of the charity that contacted you.
  • Don't provide your credit card number or any personal financial information over the phone.
  • Don't give or send cash.
  • When dealing with a legitimate charity, contribute by check or credit card to document your gift for tax purposes.

If you have doubts about the charity you would like to donate to, you can use the following charity-search websites to verify their authenticity.

Charity Navigator

GuideStar

CharityWatch

Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance

State charity offices

The National Association of State Charity Officials lists the government agencies responsible for regulating charities and solicitors.