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Charitable Giving During the Holidays

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Give the right way.
Avoid donating cash and instead write a check—made out to the charity, not the person doing the soliciting. If you want to contribute online, verify you're on an authorized site. Visit Charity Navigator, which offers direct links to nonprofits, as well as their Twitter and Facebook pages. And always get a receipt to document your gift, both for your records and so you can claim a tax deduction.

Text Education
Before jumping on the text message donation craze, check with your cell phone carrier if normal texting rates apply, and make sure it's a one-time gift and not a recurring one. Research intermediary companies that help charities with their mobile fundraising; some ask nonprofits to pay a fee for processing costs, while others, including Mobile Giving, pass along 100%. Normally it takes 30 to 90 days for texted donations to reach their charity, so in the face of disaster, making direct contributions helps ensure your dollars are received—and put to use—more quickly.

Fraud Alert
Chances are you or someone you know has received one—an emotional e-mail or text from a survivor of a recent disaster asking for aid. Don't be duped. "It's important to remember that those who have been impacted by a flood in Pakistan don't have your e-mail address or phone number," Miniutti says. Legitimate charities rarely solicit donations this way (unless you've given to the group in the past). These e-hoaxes aren't harmless, since they often include images or links that contain software viruses. Just hit delete.

Take Care
Only 35% of donors do any research before making a contribution. These websites will help you identify legitimate, effective charities that need—and deserve—your support:

Generosity Has Its Rewards
To get a tax deduction for donating to charity, here's what you need to know:

  • The group must have a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) designation. Contributions to individuals, foreign organizations not registered in the U.S., and certain private foundations do not qualify.
  • Your donation is deductible the same year it's made—that is, when you put the check in the mail or charge it to a credit card.
  • There are no limits to how much you can give and still get a tax break unless you contribute more than 20% of your income.
  • For volunteer work, you can't deduct the value of the hours you put in, but you can claim out-of-pocket costs like gas mileage.

Originally published in the December 2011 issue of Family Circle magazine.