Photo courtesy DHD Media

Making Donations

Obviously, there are still charities, such as the Salvation Army, that are happy to take your cash. However, today there are several ways for you to make your charitable contributions:

  • Make a donation by check (that way you have a record of your gift for tax purposes). Make the check payable to the charity, not the solicitor. And don't donate anything until you have the charity's exact name, address and phone number. (If you're being solicited in person, insist on seeing identification.) You should also ask the organization's purpose, how it tries to reach its goals (by awarding grants, conducting research, etc.) and how much of your dollar is used for true charitable purposes. Be sure that you know whether your donation is tax-deductible.
  • Bequeath funds, land, etc. as part of your will. You'll want to discuss this with your attorney as well as with gift or development officers from the organization to which you want to give.
  • Donate products, such as computers or used cars, and services. This is a growing area: More than $300 million in computer technology, office supplies, clothing, furniture, building materials, emergency supplies and educational materials is given annually by more than 40 percent of the Fortune 500 companies that manufacture or retail products, and by many other corporations. Gifts in Kind International is the world's largest product philanthropy charity, directly donating to the needy as well as creating partnerships between companies and more than 50,000 nonprofits around the world.

What About Giving via the Internet?

Like most businesses and organizations, charities have taken their fundraising to the Internet. Experts estimate that there are presently more than 300,000 Web sites for nonprofits. This makes sense -- a Web site is a relatively inexpensive way to promote a cause, recruit volunteers and raise money.

As Internet consumers have already found, fraud is always a concern. Earlier this year, a Better Business Bureau in Austin, Texas, learned about a person who was using the Internet to solicit $1 donations (on checks made out to "cash" and sent to a private P.O. box) for tornado victims and was actually pocketing the money. In another case, a group ran misleading ads that claimed that, for $19.95, they could help anyone obtain "free" cash from private charitable foundations. Chain letters are another cause for concern.

Experts suggest that you try to steer clear of these kinds of problems by following these tips:

  • Many charities' names are similar, so note carefully the one with which you're concerned.
  • Look up the charity on the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance.
  • If you'd like more detailed information on a charity's finances or programs, e-mail the charity with your request.
  • Before you decide to contribute online via credit card, make sure that the charity's Web server has encryption capability to protect your card from fraudulent access. If you have any concerns, mail a check.