Finding Honest Charities

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I was wondering if anyone knows where I can find information on the different organizations, like ARC and the veterans groups, that pick up donated items. These groups sell the items and give a certain percentage to a group or charity. Also, when I shop at Goodwill or the other thrift stores, I've wondered who my purchases are helping. I'd like to know that the things I give to charity and my purchases are doing the most good. Anyone have a website address or info on this?

National Bureau Rates Charities

Information on charities including legitimacy can be found at the National Charities Information Bureau, BBS Charity
Mary M. in Lexington, KY

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Charity Watchdog Groups

Here are two charitable watchdog groups that can be called to find out the suitability of particular organizations:

American Institute of Philanthropy
National Charities Information Bureau

Use Your Local BBB

The Better Business Bureau in my city publishes an annual directory of 501(c)3 charities. Included in the directory is not only the basic info about who the charity serves, but also the percentage of contributions that are actually used for the recipients (rather than to operating costs). There is a lot of other helpful info about each charity in the directory too. This reader may want to call her own city's Better Business Bureau or check out their website at
Brenda T.

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Some Questions to Ask

December is the top giving season of the year, not only because of the holiday season but also because many folks are looking to make a year end donation to help their taxes. I worked for several years as a director for a non profit organization, and I also know that this is the time of year that many "fake" or "sound alike" "charities" surface intending to cash in on the holiday spirit of giving. The first rule of thumb is to know to whom you're giving. Any reputable non profit will give you a receipt stating the tax deductable amount of your gift. Every non profit organization is required to provide a donor with a copy of their annual report if asked. Ask for this report and check carefully top see how much of the money they raise goes toward the cause, and how much of it goes to management and administrative expenses. Here in the state of Maryland all non profit organizations are required to register with the state's Charitable Organizations division of the Secretary of State's office. They can provide you with information about the good the bad and the ugly of non profit organizations. Peter Drucker also does a good report annually about non profits which can also be very helpful.

CFC Catalog

There are many wonderful organizations but there are also lots of scams. Employees of the federal government receive a handy reference booklet every year in the form of the "Combined Federal Campaign" catalogue. The CFC allows government employees to make monetary donations by payroll deduction, similar to the United Way for private employers. The CFC office pre-screens the charities so you know they're legitimate, and the catalogue includes phone numbers and also tells you what percentage of their money goes toward administrative costs. I keep the CFC catalogue around as a handy reference. Probably the United Way Campaign has a similar publication...does anyone know?

Also, choice of charities is a personal choice depending on one's own priorities. Two of the biggest and best are Goodwill Industries and Salvation Army. The Salvation Army puts its money where it counts, so the Salvation Army is a good choice if you are comfortable with the religious element of their mission.
Laura B. of Vienna, VA

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I can tell you that the money that is made in the stores at Goodwill is used to help train people with disabilities and other vocational barriers (such as those on welfare) to gain employment. They train people with severe disabilities to do repetitive jobs such as those in a factory, etc. Where I live, they also train people to be computer programmers and bank employees. This helps everyone because it helps people to work and pay taxes instead of collecting the taxes that we pay into the government. It also helps the individuals with improving their ability to live independently and develop self-esteem. I used to work for a Goodwill in my area in the administrative department that trained people to work in the operations area of a bank and it was a wonderful program that helped a lot of people. I don't know much about other charities, but I do know that Goodwill is a great choice. They also take donations of used items to sell in their stores, so consider donating as well as shopping. They will pick up large items, such as furniture if you call them and ask.

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