Contact: Janet LaFon, family financial education specialist
Headquartered in Jasper County
Tel: (417) 358-2158
CARTHAGE, Mo. -- In both good times and bad, Americans are generous givers to charitable organizations. Many of these organizations are legitimate and put the money to good use.
However, there are some charitable organizations that spend the majority of the money donated on salaries and other administrative costs – and little if anything on those in need. How can a potential donor tell the difference?
“Most charities and professional fund-raisers operating in Missouri are required to register with the Attorney General’s office,” said Janet LaFon, family financial education specialist, University of Missouri Extension.
Those exempt from registering include religious organizations and educational institutions. Many of the charities who are required to register voluntarily provide information that the Attorney Generals’ office makes available to the public.
“You can find out the missions of various charities and how much money they receive each year. Also included is information on how much they spend on programs and administrative costs,” said LaFon. “The Attorney General’s office doesn’t endorse any of the charities on the list.”
The information is provided as a resource you can use to evaluate various charities. Check their website (http://www.ago.mo.gov/divisions/consumer/check-a-charity
) or call the Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-800-392-8222.
“It can sometimes be difficult to know if a charitable organization is reputable and will put your money to good use,” said LaFon. “Before you donate, take some time to do a little research.”
To help consumers make informed charitable contributions and avoid fraud, LaFon recommends four basic tips to research the charity.
Check out the charity. Before making a contribution to a charity that solicits funds by mail or telephone, check it out. Ask for information about the organization, how funds will be used and what percentage will go to administrative costs. Be sure to read all of the organization’s materials carefully, including the fine print. Other resources you may wish to check are CharityNavigator.com and GuideStar.org. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) also provides information to help evaluate charities at Give.org. “When evaluating a charity, be sure to take a look at the financial health of the organization, accountability, transparency, and results,” said LaFon.
Confirm tax-deductible status. Be sure you are giving to a registered public charity with a 501 (c) 3 status. To check the tax exempt status of aid or charitable organizations, go to the Internal Revenue Service website, http://www.irs.gov/Charities-&-Non-Profits/Exempt-Organizations-Select-Check
Donate Funds with Check or Credit Card. Do not give cash or a credit card number to solicitors who call or email you. Request that the charity mail you written information about the fund. Then make your donation to a charity with a check or credit card.
Report Fraud. If you think you have dealt with an organization that is not using your funds properly, contact the Missouri Attorney General (http://www.ago.mo.gov
) or the Federal Trade Commission (http://www.ftc.gov/
) to file your complaint.
“Take the time to choose the recipients of your charitable giving to make sure that the dollars reach helping hands,” said LaFon.
A good, highly efficient charitable organization usually spends about 75 percent of the money it raises on charitable programs and the remaining 25 percent on general administration and fundraising, according to CharityWatch.org (formerly the American Institute of Philanthropy).
At the lowest end of the “acceptable” spectrum are charities that spend 60 percent on charitable programs and the remaining 40 percent on general administration and fundraising.
According to Charity Navigator, total giving to charitable organizations was $358.38 billion in 2014 (two percent of the Gross Domestic Product, or GDP). This is the fifth straight year giving has increased, and the first year to surpass the previous high of $355.17 billion seen in 2007.
As in previous years, the majority of that giving came from individuals. Specifically, individuals gave roughly $258.5 billion (72 percent) representing a 5.7 percent increase over 2013.
For more information on issues related to home finances, contact either of the MU Extension family financial education specialists in southwest Missouri: Janet LaFon, Jasper County Extension Center, (417) 358-2158, firstname.lastname@example.org or Nellie Lamers, Taney County Extension Center, (417) 546-4431, email@example.com.