Know where your donations go

The Tampa Bay Times did a story on the country's worst charities, and it won't surprise you how many are for cancer. These aren't charities that are trying their best to help, these are charities that are trying their best to get you to give them money so they can live an expensive lifestyle. They have no intention of helping anyone. They just want you to think they are so they can get your money. (You can read the full story here.)Charities that don't do what they are supposed to with donated money are a particular issue of mine because the millions and millions of dollars that they bilk from honest people in the name of true pain and suffering makes me . . . well it makes me really mad. The reporter did a little math and came up with these figures for the top 100. $970.6 million cash paid to solicitors --$380.3 million cash to the charities --$49.1 million to direct cash aid --If you are going to make a donation to a charity, do your homework. First, read up on these worst charities and see how they run their scam. If you are called or someone comes to your door, don't be taken in, ask for their documentation and then do your research. Don't let anyone bully you into giving them money. Here is what you need to know:What does it take to be a good nonprofit? What questions do you need to ask? Nonprofits are awarded their status by the IRS based on having a board of directors and a mission. It's not hard to do, which makes fraud easy. A legitimate nonprofit takes lots of hard work to raise money and to provide a mission. This doesn't mean there is no paid staff. Nonprofits have to be run like a business, and because of fraud, the IRS now has a ruling that you can walk into any nonprofit and ask for their 990, which is documentation of what they have raised and what they declared to the IRS. Of course, those documents can also be falsified. So there are professional organizations who judge the legitimacy of nonprofits to help us know where to give money. The best of these is Charity Navigator. Go to this site and put in the name of a nonprofit you want to support and see where they are graded in a number of areas. Also, if you are looking for a place to give a donation, you can see which nonprofit would do the most with your money. So if it's mammograms for poor women you want, search for the nonprofits that provide those and have a four-star rating and give to that group.Charity Navigator also offers education on how to know when a nonprofit is trying to misdirect you. They have provided one link called The Top 10 Practices of Savvy Donors, which I highly recommend. But before you go there, I have a few suggestions of my own. 1. In your research on a nonprofit, don't go to their website. It's not hard to lie on a website or have a few pretty pictures to document lies. Just check the website of the first organization on the list of worst charities. 2. Don't let them talk you into it when you are at your worst. It's not above these people to call you when the obituary is in the paper. The list given by Charity Navigator includes being proactive, or knowing exactly what the group does with your money. What is their mission? If they can't tell you when you ask, tell them you will get back to them and then do your research. Fake charities use paid middlemen, either phone solicitors or door to door salesmen. NEVER give out your personal information over the phone and reconsider even giving funds to a group that uses telemarketing – except that some groups you may have given to in the past that are well known in the community may call to have you renew your donation. Be very careful about sound-alike names. The Make-a-Wish Foundation is a national foundation that helps children with terminal illnesses and it has been in operation for many years. If you go to Charity Navigator, you will see that it is a four-star charity in a number of states (and does less better in others since it has state affiliates). But it is in no way connected to Kids Wish Network, which has the distinction of being at the top of the worst charities list.Believe it or not, the basics should also be checked. Is the group truly a 501c(3)status, and that means they should be on Charity Navigator, and if they aren't they should have a good reason. (Let me put a word in here for the nonprofits that are not fraudulent but struggling. If that is the case and you think their mission is needed and relevant, then join the board and help them build the program.)But back to the bad guys. Ask to see the financials to determine if the amount of money spent on mission is 65 to 75 cents of each dollar raised. No more than $.35 of each dollar should be spent on development (fundraising). If you plan to make a large donation, ask to see the mission in action. What exactly are they doing? Understand the problem in the community and see who else is working to solve it. Does this nonprofit even need to exist or could it do better to merge its energy with another group. Should you suggest this? It doesn't matter how much you plan to give, it's your money and you can ask all the questions you want to be sure it will be spent the way you want. Right now, billions, yes billions is going into cars, lake houses and high living for people who have duped people into believing their money will provide something for a community in need. Don't let it happen again. And, it's not too late. Go back to them and ask for the money back. Call the Better Business Bureau, call the media, call the IRS. Put them out of business. I got a fundraising note on my door a few years ago. After starting two nonprofits and raising considerable money in my life, I knew it looked phony. It was also for breast cancer, and I had never heard of it. Instead of sending in a check in the stamped envelope, I called the number on the letter and got an answering service. I left my number, fully expecting not to get a call back. When I did, I asked for the man who had signed the letter. The person said he wasn't in, and why did I want to talk to him. I said I wanted to ask some questions about what they did. She said she would have him call me. I never heard back. There were clearly too many other suckers to focus on than to spend time with me. It's your hard-earned money. Don't give it to someone who will use it for a lake house.