How To

By Lauren Flaum

So you’ve decided it’s time to reach into your pocket and give away some of those hard-earned dollars that you’ve stressed, sweated, slogged and struggled for. Or maybe you’ve just inherited gads of cash from your filthy-stinking-rich Great Aunt Gertrude and the stuff’s just weighing you down. Whatever your reason, you want to donate to a charity and we at Beauty News applaud you.

The world of charity organizations is vast and diverse (like the shoe department at Nordstrom). The problem is that everyone needs help in this day and age. Our planet’s a wreck, we’ve got diseases with no cure, people are dying, babies are crying…well, you get the picture. So where does one begin?

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First, you should decide who or what you want to help. Declaring “I want to do something good for mankind” like Cher in Clueless is not specific enough. Take some time to identify which causes are most near and dear to you. The possibilities are endless, but chances are that you or someone you know has a personal connection to a disease, natural disaster or something else represented by a particular charity.

Next, set goals. It’s important that you decide what kind of change you would like to effect and find a charity that strives to meet this same goal. For instance, don’t just say you want to help children – set your goal as helping to provide children in Afghanistan with a quality education (www.helptheafghanchildren.org).

An informed consumer is the best consumer. Sure it’s not a traditional transaction of goods and services, but giving to a charity is a bit like making a purchase. Just think of all the karma points you’ll be receiving in return. You wouldn’t go out and buy a new car without doing a little research (after all, you may want to donate it someday – check out www.kars4kids.com) so don’t give to a charity without doing your homework first.

Web sites like Charitynavigator.org and Give.org make it easy by doing the research for you. These sites classify and rate charities, giving objective evaluations based on things such as the organizations expenses and financial efficiency. It’s your right to know how much of your money goes to “fundraising” expenses and other administrative costs. It is particularly important to know how much the chief officer/s are taking home. While they certainly deserve a salary, someone who is living high on the hog while supposedly trying to help those in need might be seen as somewhat opportunistic. We recommend going with charities that rate a three star or better on Charitynavigator.org.

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Don’t forget about organizations right in your area, such as a neighborhood soup kitchen or animal shelter. They welcome and appreciate participation from the community, whether it be your time, money or even bringing in supplies. In this case, finding out the scoop online may be impossible, but you can still do your research by checking them out with the local charity registration office, which is usually under the jurisdiction of the state attorney general’s office, or you can use the Better Business Bureau.

It’s always a good idea to verify that the organization is certified as a nonprofit. Even if you are doing this out of the goodness of your heart, I doubt you’d balk at the idea of a tax deduction, and the only way that’s going to happen is if the group has been granted tax-exempt status under section 501 (c) (3) of the Internal Revenue Code.

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Pay attention and don’t get fooled. Imposters aren’t just knocking-off designer handbags and perfumes; they’re hip to charities, too (those no good sons of…oopse!). There are so many scams out there; it’s very easy to get sucked in by a group with a sound-alike name. You wouldn’t want to buy a bag that says “Goach” instead of “Coach,” so take the time and get in the know to avoid giving to a group that isn’t legit.

Once you’ve put some time and energy into your charity selection, you’re ready for the easy part: Giving (you may feel a sense of fulfillment at this point, don’t stifle the warm and fuzzies – you deserve it!). Just make sure you don’t give cash — always make contributions by check, payable to the charity and not to the individual collecting the donation.

Be sure to keep records, like receipts. You’ll need them come tax time, when you prove to good ol’ Uncle Sam that your heart is truly made out of gold.

Originally published October 2006
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