Operation Safe Holiday: Checking charities before you give

SAVANNAH, Ga. – The holiday season is here once again.

The season is filled with goodwill, love and hope, which leads to a significant amount of charitable giving.

According to Charity Navigator, nearly 400 billion dollars was donated to charities in the United States in 2016.

The two biggest days of the year to give are December 30th and 31st.

Charity Navigator says to give responsibly through a checklist of questions after you determine what cause you would like to donate your time and money to this year.

  • Where will my money go?
  • What kinds of help do you need?
  • What are you looking to do this year?
  • What are your goals?

Asking those questions along with following up three months later to see about the status report of the donation is a wise path to make sure a Scrooge isn’t taking advantage of your giving spirit.

Another important step to validate a non-profit is by review an organizations Form 990, an IRS document for income tax expect organizations. This form can provide transparent information about the organization’s mission, goals, board of directors, compensation, advertising fees and other useful information.

To calculate the expense percentage of an organization, Charity Navigator recommends going to Page 10 of the 990, which is available to public use by creating an account with a site like Charity Navigator of GuideStar. From there divide the Program Service Expenses column by the Total Expenses to calculate what percent an organization uses to fund programming.

“There’s no specific government regulation of program expense percentage,” Sara Nason with Charity Navigator said.

Charity Navigator says it doesn’t rate organizations like the Salvation Army, which is famous for its red kettle donation drive, because it registers as a church.

“We don’t specifically rate churches, mosques, temples. That’s not something we provide evaluation of,” Nason said.

The United Way of Coastal Empire currently funds 60 local agencies and more than 100 individualized programs. WSAV sat with President and CEO of United Way of the Coastal Empire Gregg Schroeder to see how it determines what organizations to fund and partner with on a daily basis.

“We go through a very vetting process to make sure these are agencies that have an independent board of directors. These are agencies that receive an audit each year. And we make follow-up visit. We make sure they’re getting the most bang for their buck,” Schroeder said of potential partners. He recommends individual donors practice these same steps.

Schroeder says there are more than 700 charities registered in Liberty, Chatham, Effingham and Bryan counties. “It’s important to know really who you’re giving to,” he stressed for reason to practice caution before donating.

“I do believe in a gut sense of kinda what you’re feeling in on the inside and I would be a little bit cautious. I’d rather take a little bit of time to make sure it’s a good organization, that the dollars are going to the intended purpose. I’d rather take a little more time on that then rushing to a decision,” he said.

Schroeder says his donors can be confident when giving to their local United Way.

“Pretty much every year, 100 cents of every dollar that’s given to United Way is put to use because we do have the administrative and fundraising costs covered by the Jenkins Trust Fund and other income,” he said.

To check on a charity listed in Georgia call (404) 654-6023 and in South Carolina call (803) 734-2170.

The Secretary of State  of South Carolina is due in the next few weeks to release its annual “Angels and Scrooges’ which ranks those charities that do and do not spent a designated percentage of donations on programming.


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