GIVING FROM THE HEART
Michigan Credit Union League - Your Money Matters
I could hardly believe it; yesterday I received my Easter Seals' holiday stickers in the mail. Here it is, barely Halloween, and the stores have the shelves filled with Christmas displays. Just last week I received two telephone calls requesting my support for other charities because "the Christmas season is just around the corner."
My big problem with all of this is that my wallet isn't big enough to support my heart's desires, especially when it comes to charities. Show me one sad animal, tell me one story of a child who won't have any presents, or even worse a child without proper winter clothing and immediately my checkbook is out. But I've heard horror stories of so-called charitable organizations that help themselves before helping others. How can donors be sure that the money or gifts they give are going to those who need it most?
The Philanthropic Advisory Services (PAS), a division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB), offers the following things to keep in mind when you're deciding to donate to a charity:
* When donating to charity Coin Boxes make sure the device clearly identifies the charity and lists an address or telephone number which you can contact for more information. Realize that all of the money may not go to the designated organization. Many times fundraising costs associated with the box itself are also deducted.
* If you're considering donating more than pocket change, never use cash. Write out a check to the charity's full official name, never to the individual collecting the donation.
* For questions about a national charity or to register a complaint contact PAS in writing C/O the CBBB, Inc., 4200 Wilson Blvd., Suite 800, Arlington, VA 22203-1804 or through the BBB's World Wide Web site at http://www.bbb.org/bbb.
* Questions about local charities should go directly to your local Better Business Bureau; call (248) 644-9100 if you're in Detroit and Eastern Michigan or (616) 774-8236 if you're on the west side of the state.
* Do not be pressured to give money on the spot. The charity that needs your money today will welcome it tomorrow.
* Do not hesitate to ask the charity to provide detailed written information about its programs and finances. Charities with nothing to hide will encourage your interest.
PAS can also provide you with publications which rate national charities based on the CBBB standards for charitable solicitations. There are minimal charges for some publications. For a complete listing contact PAS at either of the address mentioned above or, to receive the publications offered at no charge, send a $.55 stamped, self-addressed, business-size envelope along with your request.
If you do make a contribution and plan to use the donation as a tax deduction, remember that only contributions made to certain types of tax exempt organizations may be deductible as charitable contributions on your federal income tax return. A 501(c)(3) IRS classification is the major indicator of a qualifying charity. Also, contributions made directly to needy individuals are not deductible. Contributions are only deductible for the calendar year in which they are actually paid or delivered. And, generally a purchase from a charity qualifies only to the extent that it exceeds the fair market value of its purchased price. For example, if a charity charges $10 for a box of candy that would normally sell for $8, only $2 can be claimed as a charitable contribution.
Legitimate not-for-profit organizations and charities can do wonderful things for those in need and our support means so much. Let's all do our part to make sure that we're supporting only those causes which are sincere. By doing so, we can feel good knowing that we're too smart to be fooled by imposters. Moreover, we can feel good because we've made a difference.