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How to give responsibly

The spirit of giving can be a wonderful thing to embrace and can help people to feel good about helping others.

While most charities are legitimate entities, there are others that prey on the generosity of others. Some donors might be surprised to learn their donations are not always going to a worthy cause.

Men and women can easily be overwhelmed by charity solicitations at certain times of the year and not know how to differentiate worthy charities from the ones that may not be legitimate. Donors should employ responsible giving by researching charities and ensuring their money is well spent on those truly in need.

• Don’t give on a whim. Impulse giving can be irresponsible, as such donations might not be going to help those in need. In addition, when giving impulsively, donors may unknowingly be offering money to scammers preying on the well-intentioned. Research a charity before making any donations, carefully examining its targeted goals and how your donation is likely to be spent.

• Do not give over the telephone. Telemarketing campaigns to solicit donations are not necessarily dishonest, but prospective donors should never give their personal information over the phone. If a telemarketer’s pitch impresses you, politely request that information be mailed to your home or ask for the charity’s website address and learn more about the charity there. Giving personal information over the phone is risky, as potential donors may not know if the person they’re speaking with is truly a representative of a charity or a criminal attempting to steal their identities. Even if the telemarketer is legitimate, chances are he or she works for a telemarketing firm hired by the charity, so some of your donation will be going to pay the telemarketer even if you want the entirety of your donation to go to the charity itself. Making a direct donation through the company’s website or sending a check directly to the charity eliminates the middle person, ensuring more ofyour money is going toward the cause you want to support.

• Examine a charity’s financial records. Reputable charities should have no problem sharing their financial information with prospective donors, who should not hesitate to ask for these records. When examining a charity’s finances, make sure it is devoting at least 75 percent of its budget to its programs and services, avoiding charities that are spending too much money on administrative services and fund-raising. All charities will need to reserve funds for administrative services, fund-raising efforts and additional operating costs, but those costs should not exceed 25 percent of the organization’s budget.

• Don’t be afraid to concentrate your giving. Many charities support many worthy causes, and it can be hard for well-intentioned donors to decide which charity is most deserving of their donations. But spreading smaller donations around several charities can make it difficult for those charities to make the most of your gift. More money will be spent processing each donation, reducing the potential impact of each gift along the way. Once you have discovered and fully vetted a charity in which you feel confident, don’t be afraid to make that charity the lone recipient of your charitable donations.

• Give in the off-season. Many charities receive the bulk of their donations during the holiday season, when the spirit of giving and potential tax deductions compel many men and women to make their donations. But charities need just as much money to operate throughout the rest of the year as they do come the holiday season. If money is tight during the holiday season, don’t hesitate to give during the off-season. Your donation will be just as valued in July as in December, and you won’t be forced to make room for charitable donations in your holiday budget.

This story was posted on December 19, 2013.