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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

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. 

High Marks: Spondylitis Association of America
Low Marks: The Arthritis Trust of America 

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 

High Marks: Diabetes Action Research and Education Foundation
Low Marks: Defeat Diabetes Foundation 

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 

Courtesy of Charity Navigator 

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Please note that Harpo Productions, Inc., OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network, Discovery Communications LLC and their affiliated companies and entities have no affiliation with and do not endorse those entities or websites referenced above, which are provided solely as a courtesy. Please conduct your own independent investigation (including an investigation as to whether any contributions are tax deductible) before donating to any charity, project or organization. This information is provided for your reference only.


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