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Give wisely this holiday season

November 29, 2012
The Daily News

The Michigan Nonprofit Association, Council of Michigan Foundations, Michigan Association of United Ways, and Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette have partnered to give Michigan donors tips on how to give wisely to charity this holiday season.

The brochure, entitled "Giving Wisely," gives the public tips on how to avoid scams and what questions to ask to ensure their gift will go towards programming instead of administrative costs.

"We are excited to be working with Attorney General Schuette on Giving Wisely," said Kyle Caldwell, President and CEO of the Michigan Nonprofit Association. "Giving Wisely is the commitment of Michigan nonprofits to work with government to educate and protect our donors from fraud, waste and abuse," said Caldwell in a statement.

With the end of the year fund-raising appeals beginning for many charities in addition to traditional holiday giving taking place, the free Giving Wisely brochure provides timely and critical advice to anyone making a donation.

"Michigan citizens have generous hearts, but before giving to charity, it's important to do your homework," said Schuette. "The tips in Giving Wisely will help citizens avoid scams and ensure their hard-earned dollars make a real difference in our communities."

"We hope this brochure will be a helpful tool for Michigan citizens to make a smart decision about where to donate their time and money" said Rob Collier, President and CEO of the Council of Michigan Foundations.

"Michigan charities need support from donors now more than ever; Giving Wisely equips Michiganders with the right questions and resources to make that gift count" said Scott Dzurka, President and CEO of the Michigan Association of United Ways.

Giving Wisely provides tips on how to donate your monetary contributions, time and talents to an organization.

Some suggestions in the brochure include:

What are the organization's purposes and programs?

All charities have a specific charitable mission and provide programs and services to carry out that mission. Choose a charity with a mission that matches your own passions; a charity that can point to specific goals and programs it is sponsoring to fulfill their stated mission. This information should be prominently featured in

all of the group's fundraising appeals and should match your goals as a donor.

How much of your donation will go towards programming rather than administrative and fundraising expenses?

Charities use your donations not only to carry out their charitable programs, but also to pay for administrative costs and fundraising. While administrative and fundraising costs are a necessary part of operating an efficient charitable program, ask questions to make sure the charity is making wise decisions.

Some fundraising companies, especially those that raise funds over the telephone, retain very large commissions and share only a small portion of donations with the charity. It is smart to ask a charity what percentage of your donation will directly support programming so you understand how your money will be used.

Is the donation tax deductible?

Only donations to 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations are deductible on your personal income tax form as charitable donations. Ask if the organization has received this tax-exempt status from the IRS and ask if the donation is eligible for other tax credits.

Is the organization good at what it does?

Ask about the organization's recent accomplishments and what its goals are for the next year or two. Make sure that an established organization has a successful track record. Consider asking the organization, or visiting, to review the organization's IRS Form 990 for the most recent tax years to learn more about the organization's operations and finances.

Call the Michigan Attorney General's Charitable Trust Section to ask for specific financial information, or obtain a report on the charity by going to

If it is a local charity, visit to learn more about the effectiveness of their programs.

Is the organization registered to solicit funds from the public?

Under Michigan law, most charities must be registered before they solicit funds. To find out if a charity is registered, visit If an organization is not listed or you would like more information, contact the Attorney General's office at (517) 373-1152 or to check up on the organization.

Don't just hand over the money. Before you send a check, here are some tips for making the actual donation:

- Make your contribution by check or credit card so that you have a record of your donation.

- Make the check payable to the organization, never to an individual.

- Ask for and keep receipts from the organization indicating the amount of your donation, the date and its intended use.

- Don't give your credit card numbers or other personal information to someone unsolicited who has called you. Also, use caution when donating by telephone or online unless you independently verify the organization contacting you. If you are concerned, ask the organization how it will use your donation and safeguard your information.

- When donating online, check to see that you are using a secure site for financial transactions - one starting with an "httpS://" (not "http://"). Even secure sites can be "spoofed" by scammers.

- Avoid supporting scams. While the vast majority of charities are wonderful, conscientious organizations, a few are scams.



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