The holidays are approaching quickly.  Here are 10 tips for Holiday giving to charities.  Please review these tips to make sure you protect yourself from getting taken advantage of and to make sure your generous gift is used for the cause you intend!

Decide whether this charity fits your giving plan:

Develop a personal or family giving plan that prioritizes the causes you want to support.  When choosing a charity, don’t stop at your mailbox or telephone.  Many local charities don’t conduct solicitation campaigns, so seek out those that fit your priorities.

Know the exact name of the charity:

Many charities have similar sounding names.  It’s easy to assume that a solicitation is from a charity familiar to you.  When you write a check, make it payable to the official and full name of the charity.  Avoid cash gifts – especially if you are unfamiliar with the organization.  Cash can be lost or stolen.

Research how this charity will use your deduction:

At least 70% of a charity’s total expenses should be for program services.  Although fundraising and administrative costs are a necessary part of any well-managed organization, a substantial amount of donors’ contributions ought to be used for a charity’s services.

Evaluate the outcomes achieved through this charity:

You should know that your contribution really will make a difference.  Take time to learn about the organization and the issues it addresses.  Ask about specific results and accomplishments.  Inquire about the geographic location(s) of program services and activities.

Beware of emotional or high-pressure solicitations:

Solicitations with little or no substance, news of winning money or prizes, and letters indicating a pledge from you (unless you previously agreed to make a donation) should raise a red flag.  Giving should be a voluntary act.

Understand on-line donations:

If you want to use a credit card to donate on-line, make sure the Web site is secure.  Read the Web site’s security information and look for two things that indicate a secure site:  a Web address that begins with https: (instead of http:) and a tiny padlock icon in the lower right-hand corner of the page.  Find out if the charity pays any fees to a service provider to process on-line donations.

Request printed information about a charity:

Charities are required to provide their IRS Form 990 at your request.  They also should be willing to provide annual reports and financial statements.

Know the tax implications of your donations:

Is the agency a non-profit organization?  Is your contribution tax-deductible?  Could you make a gift of stock or other asset?  Be sure to ask.

Begin plans to make a lasting gift:

Talk to your preferred charities about including them in your estate planning decisions.

Consider giving more than money:

Most charities don’t want just your financial support.  They can use your valuable time, too!  Local agencies need volunteers throughout the year.  Make a New Year’s resolution to create a giving plan for both your money and time.