Monetary donations aren't the only way to give back in 2014—consider volunteering your time or skills to a reputable charity. Photo by: Georgia National Guard via Flickr, CC BY 2.0
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Have a Charitable Resolution? Give Smartly and Safely This Year

Each year, many Georgians make the resolution to give more to charity. Sometimes, though, donating to charity is more complex than simply writing a check. Considerations include what you want your donation to mean, and how it will get to the charity you choose. Here are some tips to make sure your dollars can make a difference this year.

Get to know a charity before you give. Often a potential donor can think of many different organizations that he or she would like to support, so it may be a good idea to do a little research to understand which causes or organizations best align with your interests and goals. Georgia’s Office of the Secretary of State (OSS) warns that donors be wary of fraudsters who have set up organizations under names that are similar to more well-known and real charities.

Learn how your money will be spent. Charities have a variety of needs, from covering employee costs to funding the programs that actually comprise their charity work, so the Better Business Bureau (BBB) advises that potential donors should check to make sure that they understand and are comfortable with how the charity of their choice will spend their donated dollars. The BBB’s Give.Org, CharityNavigator, GuideStar and Georgia’s OSS all publish information on the financial management and legal history of many charities. The BBB also reminds donors that sometimes lower spending by a charity on its employee and management costs does not always mean that a charity is more effective.

Consider other ways to give. Sometimes the best support that a person can provide comes from a donor’s professional skills or time instead of cash. Imagine a Saturday afternoon spent teaching basic business skills to children or helping your favorite local charity with its bookkeeping. Services like VolunteerMatch and LiteracyWorks can help a donor to consider how his or her interests, strengths and abilities might best support a charity.

Review the tax rules. Also, many charities need donations of non-monetary items like clothing and tools, says Georgia’s OSS. However, the IRS cautions that donors interested in donation-related tax deductions should be aware that IRS rules on these donations have recently changed. Clothing and household items are required to be in good condition when donated, and the charity should provide the donor with documentation of all items donated, the IRS says. The BBB asks that donors check to confirm their charities’ needs before donating these items, because charities spend millions of dollars annually sorting through and disposing of donated but unneeded or unacceptable items.

Watch Out For Solicitors

Take care that swindlers don’t spoil your sense of charity. Be careful with callers who ask you to donate to their charity, says Georgia’s OSS, which advises Georgians to ask callers to put their request and information about their charity in writing. Never give your personal, credit card or bank information to a telephone solicitor, adds the OSS, and be wary of couriers that offer to stop by your home to pick up your donation. The BBB adds that you should also be careful around door-to-door solicitors or anyone else that tries to make a “high-pressure, emotional pitch” for your donation.

The OSS also urges that donors be cautious with organizations that only list their addresses as post office boxes, private mailbox number addresses or mail drop suite numbers. In addition, watch out for organizations that say they are representing an organization like the police or fire department that you know is already publicly-supported. A simple phone call to that department can confirm to you whether a charity you’re considering is actually affiliated with that department through a legitimate social organization like a union for government employees, says the OSS.

If you suspect an organization is acting inappropriately, Secretary of State Brian Kemp asks that you please file a complaint with his office’s Professional Licensing Boards Division.

 


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