Most of us will give money to at least one charity
this year; 70%-80% of Americans, according to the American
Association of Fundraising Counsel.
Individual giving is the single largest source of charitable gifts,
so your decision whether to give money and to whom is a big one, no
matter how large your donation.
"There are an awful lot of legitimate charities out there and,
unfortunately, there are a lot of illegitimate charities out there,"
points out Janet Jenkins, Administrator with the Wisconsin
Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection
Jenkins says a lot of charity fund raising is still done over the
telephone. So don't be surprised to get a call this holiday season.
"These people want you to give on the spot while they have you on
the phone. Don't do it," advises Jenkins. "Many of the illegitimate
charities purport to be collecting on behalf of things that pull at
heartstrings like disabled veterans."
Jenkins says illegitimate charities may not necessarily be breaking
"People need to be careful because a lot of these charities are
legitimate in the sense that they give a very tiny portion of the
collected money to charity. But most of it they keep for themselves.
There are no laws in Wisconsin that say that you have to give so
much of collected money to be licensed as a charity."
As a guideline, but not necessarily a hard and fast rule, at least
60% of the money you give should go to a charity's programs or
services. When they call, ask what their percentage is. Also, ask
what percentage goes to salaries and administration. Ask them to
send you a detailed financial report. Also, ask to see a copy of
their form 990; the IRS form that shows how a charity uses its
There are several good websites where you can check a charity's
credentials. They include charitynavigator.org, give.org,
guidestar.org and charitywatch.org. This is one money area where
you'll need to do the legwork.
"Remember, if you give $20 directly to the police department, they
get the whole $20. Whereas, if you give to a charity that isn't
completely legit, they may only get 10-cents on the dollar," says
You can check to see if a charity is registered in Wisconsin by
calling Consumer Protection at 608-266-5511.
But, keep in mind, just because the group is registered doesn't
necessarily mean it uses your money well.
During the holiday season, hearts and wallets open and charitable
giving gets a boost.
By some estimates, 50 percent of charitable giving happens in the
time between Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve.
Americans donated about a quarter trillion dollars to charity last
year. With so much money changing hands, it's important to separate
the good charities from the bad.
Respondents to a poll done by The United Way of Greater Milwaukee
found that accountability was the most important factor when
deciding on a charity.
When donating, experts recommend you do your research. Consider the
type of organization you want to give to and work with a charity
that will provide you with information on how your money is spent.
Wisconsin's Better Business Bureau is working to create a seal of
approval, which coincides with the bureau's rating system -- a
20-point standard -- that potential donors can look for when
deciding on a charity.