Do your homework before giving money to charities


January 22, 1995|By SUSAN BONDY | SUSAN BONDY,Creators Syndicate

There are many worthwhile charities in this country. Unfortunately, there are fraudulent ones, too. And even among the legitimate charities there are those that spend most of your contributions on fund raising and administrative expenses, and little on the charity's programs.

Once a year, the Council of Better Business Bureaus publishes a guide with information about the charitable, educational and religious organizations that have generated the greatest number of inquiries.

The 1995 Annual Charity Index, which provides snapshots of 207 of the most-asked-about national charities, costs $14.95. To get it, send a money order or check payable to CBBB to: Charity Index, Council of Better Business Bureaus, Department 023, Washington, D.C. 20042-0023. Those who order the Index will also receive a free copy of the latest Give But Give Wisely newsletter, indicating which of the most-asked-about charities in America meet the CBBB's 22 voluntary ethical standards.

The index also includes step-by-step tips on the following:

* tax deductibility of various types of donations;

* how to file a complaint against a charity;

* charity sweepstakes offers;

* charity thrift stores;

* disaster appeals;

* police and firefighter solicitations.

Here are some basic dos and don'ts the CBBB also recommends, in case you cannot get your hands on this guide:

* Don't give cash. Make contributions by check or money order made out to the charity -- never to an individual.

* Ask for written materials. These should describe the group's programs and finances.

* Don't give in to pressure to make an immediate donation. The charity that needs your money today will also welcome it tomorrow.

* Keep records. You'll need receipts, canceled checks and bank statements to document donations at tax time.

* Check out charities. Inquire with your local charity registration office (usually associated with the state attorney general's office) and with your Better Business Bureau.

Susan Bondy founded her namesake financial services company in 1980 to provide financial planning and asset management. She is a frequent guest on "Good Morning America," the "Today Show" and National Public Radio. She is the author of "How to Make Money Using Other People's Money." Write to Susan Bondy in care of The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278. All letters will be treated confidentially.

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