Give but Give Smartly: How to Make the Choice

. December 1, 2016.

By Pat Nowak

Charity today is big business with dollars raised by many different entities. But with all of those charitable options, how can you be sure you are giving to a reputable organization? For every legitimate entity,  five others seem to be asking for donations for the same “cause”. Here are some smart tips to remember when considering a charity.

Find Your Cause and Make a Long-Term Commitment

We all have an interest or cause we want to support. Whether animals or the arts are your passion, forge a relationship with a charity and support it for the long haul. Before you make a contribution, talk with the charity to learn about its accomplishments, challenges and goals, and walk away from any charity that is unwilling to participate in this type of conversation or does not have the answers that are important to you. Once you find the right charity– look at yourself as a partner in their efforts. Discuss your plans with the charity and volunteer for events so that they know they can rely on you and they don’t have to spend unnecessarily contacting you with numerous solicitations.

Consider the Organization– Think Local First

Consider the causes that are most important for you and your family to support, and then look in your community. For every national organization there is often one in your area that has targeted goals to benefit recipients locally.

Hang Up the Phone To Eliminate the Middleman

Be wary about charitable organizations using telemarketing campaigns; the solicitors often keeps a large portion of each dollar they collect. Do not use credit cards or provide personal information. Many local charities send ask letters directly, without a middleman, ensuring 100 percent of the donation reaches the charity.

Be Careful of Sound-Alike Names

We often get pleas from a multitude of organizations, which can be confusing with charities that have similar names. The names may sound similar, but their performances are vastly different. Take the time to learn about the named charity before writing a check.

Confirm 501(c) (3) Status and Obtain Financial Reports

Smart donors write a check and don’t drop money into canisters.  They give money to support groups who have tax-exempt status under section 501(c) (3) of the Internal Revenue Code. A donor can obtain financial records for the organization. Check the three most recent Forms 990; a blueprint for the charity’s finances. Request a copy from the charity to determine if the entity is transparent and financially stable. Here are some things to look for:

  • Charities should spend at least 75 percent on programs and services and less than 25 percent on fundraising and administrative fees
  • Make sure the charity can continue to grow its revenues to match inflation.
  • Be wary of an organization’s CEO making an exorbitant salary; it should be competitive, not outrageous.

Local Organizations Making a Difference

  • Arts: Toledo Symphony, Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo Opera, Arts Commision of Greater Toledo
  • Animals: The Toledo Animal Shelter, Humane Ohio, Paws and Whiskers, The Toledo Humane Society
  • Health: The Victory Center, Susan B. Komen NW Ohio, Alzheimer’s Foundation, The Zepf Center, NAMI, American Heart Association, The Ability Center of Greater Toledo
  • Others: Make-A-Wish, Good Grief


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