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Giving Wisely

Weekend businesses, playing with your food.

Chances are, you or your family members made a contribution to a favorite charity over the holidays. But what if you want to make an additional charitable contribution during the year on behalf of your company? And what if your business is asked to participate in collecting charitable contributions?

Use caution, says Bennett Weiner, a vice president at the Council of Better Business Bureaus. "When deceptive charity pleas take place, they defraud businesses as well as consumers," says Weiner.

But don't get your purse strings in a knot just yet: "There are a number of things a small business can do on its own to make more intelligent giving decisions," says Weiner. He offers the following list of suggestions to help business owners responsibly give to and gather for charities:

1. Don't just react to appeals as they come in; take the time to develop a carefully defined giving plan, including a concrete, annual donation amount.

2. Assign one person to handle all requests for charity donations. This will save time and eliminate the possibility of duplicate donations.

3. When approached for a donation, ask questions and don't contribute until you're satisfied with the answers. "Charities with nothing to hide will encourage your interest," says Weiner.

4. Watch out for appeal statements that say "All proceeds to benefit charity." This can mean that only the money remaining after expenses are paid will go to the charity.

5. Before placing a canister, candy machine, honor box or coin board in your business, be sure to research the organization first. "When customers come into your store, they're assuming you've already checked out the organization," says Weiner. Don't let them down; your business reputation and customer trust are at risk.

6. To research a charity, consult the local charity registration office (usually a division of the state attorney general's office) and your local Better Business Bureau (BBB). The BBB Web site (http://www.bbb.org) can also be a helpful resource if the charity in question has a national presence.

7. To obtain a copy of Give But Give Wisely, a quarterly newsletter that encourages people to investigate before they donate, send a check for $3 to the Council of Better Business Bureaus, 4200 Wilson Blvd., #800, Arlington, VA 22203.

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This article was originally published in the February 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Giving Wisely.

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