University of Missouri Extension

Holiday Season Spurs Charitable Giving

It happened again last evening. We just sat down for a family dinner when the telephone rang and a young voice asked us for a donation to a public safety-related charity.  I learned though, after a few probing questions, that only 6 cents of every dollar they raised would go to the charity and fully 94 cents was going to the professional fund raising group.

Dr. Joyce Cavanagh, our new state specialist in Family and Consumer Economics in Missouri, points out that as the holiday season approaches, the number of solicitations people receive from charitable organizations increases. "Forty percent of charitable contributions are received in the last six to eight weeks of the year. Eighty cents of every dollar given to a charitable organization is from individual donors," she says.

Ask questions before making a donation.

While most people are happy to support worthwhile causes, many like to know their money is being used as intended. How can money be given wisely? "Savvy consumers know how to ask the right questions and do a little homework before making a donation, " explains Cavanagh.

Who wants your money? Ask for the full name, address and phone number of the charity. Be cautious of "sound-alike" names. Some phony charities use names that closely resemble legitimate charities.

Ask whether the organization is listed as a tax exempt public charity with the IRS and if your donation will be tax deductible. According to Cavanagh, "Just because an organization is tax exempt does not mean contributions will be tax deductible."

Request written information about the charity and a copy of its last annual report be mailed to you. Legitimate charities will be happy to send you material. "Refusal to supply this information should be considered a red flag," she warns.

How will your donation be used? A dramatic heart-wrenching description of general need may get your attention, but you should know more before you give. Find out how your money will be used before you give.

What percentage of your donation will go toward true charitable purposes?

More tips:

  • Don't give your credit card number or your bank account number out in response to phone solicitations.
  • Do not respond to letters that say you have pledged money unless you are sure that you did.
  • Never give cash. Write a check in the name of the charity, not to an individual. If giving property, ask for a receipt.
  • Think twice about organizations that offer to send a courier or messenger to your home to pick up your donation

Consider giving locally. "Many times we forget about organizations in our own backyard that are making a significant difference in our community. Not only does the organization benefit, but you see first hand what a difference you've made."

Several organizations monitor charities and provide potential givers with information.

Better Business Bureau's
Philanthropic Advisory Service
(703) 267-0100 or

National Charities information Bureau (212) 929-6300 or

American Institute of Philanthropy (314) 454-3040

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