O, The Oprah Magazine offers advice to help you find charities that make the most of your contributions.
The Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance evaluates charities on 20 standards of accountability, issuing detailed reports on finances and organization. Charity Navigator simplifies things by rating charities based on how efficiently they use their money. Both are good ways to check up on the charity of your choice. You can also call the IRS (877-829-5500) to verify the group's tax-exempt status.
Find Out How They Spend the Money Legitimate charities gladly share information on where your donation will go, says Charity Navigator president Trent Stamp. His group's free reports reveal CEO salaries and how much of the money goes to fund-raising and other expenses. A charity should spend at least 75 percent of its budget on programs directly related to its cause, says Stamp.
Check the Name Twice Before you open your checkbook, make sure you're giving to the organization you think you are, says Stamp. Dodgy charities can capitalize on the reputation of legitimate ones by using a soundalike name. For instance, Stamp's group gives the Children's Defense Fund four stars, and the Children's Charity Fund zero. But even legitimate groups can fall short: The American Cancer Society earns just two stars from Charity Navigator. "Only 69 cents on the dollar goes to programs, and that's well below their peers," Stamp says. By contrast, the National Cancer Coalition spends 96 percent of its money on cause-related programs.
Beware of Charity Tie-In Products
Don't assume that buying a product with a charity's stamp can substitute for a direct donation. "For most products, it's just pennies on the dollar that actually reach the charity," says Stamp. "That might make you feel better, but it can be the equivalent of throwing a penny in a donation jar."
Breast Cancer High Marks: Breast Cancer Research Foundation Low Marks: American Breast Cancer Foundation
Cancer High Marks: Dana-Farber Cancer Institute Low Marks: Childhood Leukemia Foundation
Global Health High Marks: Partners in Health Low Marks: Children's Wish Foundation International, Inc.
Arthritis High Marks: Spondylitis Association of America Low Marks: The Arthritis Trust of America
Alzheimer's High Marks: Fisher Center for Alzheimer's Research Foundation Low Marks: American Health Assistance Foundation
Women's Health High Marks: National Women's Health Network Low Marks: National Osteoporosis Foundation
Diabetes High Marks: Diabetes Action Research and Education Foundation
Low Marks: Defeat Diabetes Foundation
AIDS High Marks: International AIDS Vaccine Initiative Low Marks: Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS
Heart Disease High Marks: WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease Low Marks: Heart Support of America
Children's Health High Marks: Healthy Child Healthy World Low Marks: Wishing Well Foundation USA