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Tips for secure, meaningful giving this holiday season

Many Americans will give to charitable causes, such as the Salvation Army's red kettle campaign, this holiday season. Charity Navigator has tips to help donors' choose a cause. (Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — ‘Tis the season of giving. Many Americans donate to charity
this time of year, but which charities deserve donors’ hard-earned dollars?

“You want to make sure that the bulk of [a charity’s] spending is going into
their programs and services that they exist to provide,” says Sandra Miniutti,
vice president and chief financial officer of Charity Navigator, a group that
evaluates charities.

To earn Charity Navigator’s top rating, charities must be financially sound,
accountable and transparent — and get results.

“Our research into 8,000 charities shows that a good benchmark is to look for
charities that spend at least 75 percent of their budget on their programs,
with the remaining 25 percent spent on overhead,” Miniutti says.

Thousands of charities have earned the group’s four-star rating, including
Feeding America, which helps food banks nationwide; and Direct Relief, which
transports medical supplies in times of disaster. Doctors Without Borders
ranks high also.

Miniutti recommends that donors steer clear of telemarketers raising money
over the telephone.

“Really, the best thing to do is simply hang up. You have no way of knowing
who is on the other line. It could be a criminal trying to get your personal
financial information,” Miniutti says.

Even if it’s not a crook, Miniutti says, some telemarketing fundraisers can
keep 95 cents or more of each dollar donated.

“It’s a very inefficient way to support a charity,” Miniutti says.

Charity Navigator also advises that donors be proactive. Identify a cause they
care about, reach out and ask questions.

“Any time a charity won’t answer your questions, that’s definitely a big red
flag,” Miniutti says.

And don’t be fooled by charities with names that sound like well-known
organizations.

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