In the wake of the catastrophe in Japan we’ve received dozens of questions about charitable giving and are reprinting a piece we wrote a few months ago about being smart girls when it comes to  giving. To preface the piece we’re including this quick 5 rule tip from the folks at The Charity Navigator:

1. Avoid giving to newly formed charities.

2. Send  help in the form of cash (credit card/check, really)  not supplies

3. Beware of solicitations. (see below phone calls/email entreaties/man on the street)

4. Give through a verified website (many are false fronts)

5. Keep tabs on your money: give to organizations that track how their money is spent and accounts for it

Give Wisely

It’s that time of year when in addition to giving to friends and family we make contributions to those in need, so several recent news stories caught our attention:

-Outside of Boston a tractor trailer loaded with toys destined for needy kids was burglarized and $15,000 worth of gifts were stolen.

-The Massachusetts Attorney General reported that 43 percent of all funds raised by charities in the state go to the solicitors and not the organizations that hire them.

-In Oregon, the Attorney General released a list of the twenty ‘worst’ charities in America; among those listed were organizations to help Firefighters, Vietnam Vets, Missing Children.

Since our mission is editing what is worth your spending time and money on, and since we believe in giving back no matter what the state of your pocketbook, all of this has raised an alarm. We want to remind you to be careful and thoughtful in choosing the charities that are the recipient(s) of your hard earned dollars.     

Ask these questions:

-Is this a non-profit charity or a for-profit business asking for your gift?

-Are you giving funds to a soliciting agent or the charity itself?

-How much of the money the charity receives gets spent on the cause and how much goes to funding the fundraising and/or the administration of the organization?

-Consult your state Attorney General’s office and online sites like Charity Watch and The Charity Navigator before giving.

Our point is not to stop giving. Our point is to be wise and watchful about who you give to. We never give to any organization that solicits over the telephone. Period. Who hasn’t received the call -usually in the middle of dinner- from the Fireman’s or Police benevolent fund? The organization that promises to help the local youth something-or-other-league? The teacher/PTA/school educational fund? You know the aggressive solicitor who intentionally make you feel like a heartless bitch if you don’t contribute to the cause or who subtly imply that should there be an emergency perhaps no one will come to your aid.

Our response is always firm and the same: “We don’t give over the phone. Please send us materials in the mail and we will evaluate your cause.” We have NEVER received any material in the mail. Think about that.

Look, this is tricky, charities need to spend money to get money and we’re not complaining about this. Just make sure you do some research into the charity you are supporting and not giving to a charity that spends 95% of monies raised on themselves and 5% on their cause.

The theft of the toys from the trailer is an obvious loss, the misuse of charitable dollars is a hidden one.