Using the internet, it's easy to do a thorough job of checking up on do-gooders to make sure your money will be helping a good cause.
Last month, we discussed car donations in this column. But most people who give to good causes do it in a form that can't be driven to a charity's doorstep--cash or artwork, for instance. Call it a sign of the times, but even writing a check might require more legwork these days. That's because in the past year, the IRS has increased its scrutiny of charities, and Congress has held public hearings about nonprofit accountability--or the lack of it. Our nation's leaders, in short, are warning us that not all charities are created equal. How, then, can you be sure your philanthropic dollars are being used for the good works you expect?
Fortunately, it's pretty easy to take a peek under the hood, financially speaking, of U.S. charities online. Your first stop should probably be www.guidestar.org, which has been posting charities' public filings for more than a decade. Although you have to register (for free) to access much of the information, you'll be able to find everything from mission statements to boards of directors to the annual Form 990 filings for charities you're considering. You can even establish fixed criteria and use it to search more than 1 million U.S. charities.
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