Make sound decisions about charitable giving

Americans are the most generous donors in the world, and, on average, households in South Dakota and Minnesota generously gave 4.1 percent of discretionary income to charity.

Here is some information to help you make sound decisions about charitable giving:

Before giving to any charity, ask yourself: What’s my realistic budget for charitable contributions? What really inspires me and how can I make the greatest impact?

In order for the donor to receive a tax deduction for a donation, the charity must be a qualified 501(c)3 organization. The I.R.S. has a searchable database of charities where you can verify that the organization holds this status.

The Better Business Bureau’s The BBB Wise Giving Alliance provides a national-level seal of approval with its Standards for Charity Accountability. There are 20 standards that a charity must satisfy. If some standards are not met, consumers will see that in the charity’s listing. In addition, the BBB states that a charitable organization should spend at least 65 percent of its money on program activities — that is, activities directly related to its cause.

Charity Navigator and Guidestar are two online sources of information about the structure and performance of many nonprofit organizations.

Never make a donation to a telephone solicitor. The solicitor might not even be legitimate. Telephone charity scams use names similar to those of well-known organizations, or they may say they are raising money for causes that tug at the heartstrings, such as supporting military families, veterans or police officers. In reality, your money will be used simply to profit the person calling.

Email and social media scams and misinformation abound. Before clicking on a link or forwarding information, do some research at the sites listed above or www.snopes.com, a fact-checking and Internet reference source.

Mailed donation requests may also be fraudulent; do your homework before giving.

You can make a greater impact by making your donation part of a matching program. Does your employer make a matching donation? Is there another matching option, for example, during a telethon, on giving Tuesday or a donation drive?

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