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Consumer Reports: What you should know about donating to charity

Posted at 8:43 PM, Dec 29, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-30 06:29:41-05

Americans donated more than 350 billion dollars to charities last year.

As the year winds down, many people are looking to get those last donations in so they'll count in next year's taxes.

Newschannel 3's Erica Greenway has advice from Consumer Reports to make sure your donations go to worthwhile charities.

With more than a million charities and countless causes to choose from, deciding where to donate your hard-earned dollars can be tricky.

While the vast majority of charities provide real aid, scam artists won't hesitate to profit from your good intentions.

This past spring, the Cancer Fund of America and three affiliate organizations were charged with defrauding donors of 187 million dollars.

Consumer Reports' Margot Gilman says you really have to do your homework.

“Organizations can spend as much on marketing and overhead as on actually helping people," Gilman said.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to research charities.

Online resources like Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, and Give.org from the Better Business Bureau evaluate groups on their costs and effectiveness, and provide easy-to-understand ratings.

In general, they suggest staying away from charities that spend more than 30 to 40 percent of their budget on fundraising.

If you'd like to learn more about an organization, consider volunteering first to get to know the group.

If you are a repeat donor, look at the returns on last year's contribution: What did the charity accomplish with gifts like yours? Consumer Reports says to be careful of look-alike charities.

"It's important to look at organizations whose names and logos look a lot like those of more respected charities. They're preying on your confusion," said Margot Gilman, Consumer Reports money editor.

For example, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society spends about three-quarters of its budget on charitable programs, according to Charity Watch.

The Childhood Leukemia Foundation spends one-quarter of its budget on charitable programs.

It's a great time of year to do good. Just make sure you're smart about your giving.

If you did wait until the last minute, know that you can deduct credit-card donations on your 2015 tax returns even if you don't pay your bill until January.