For Subscribers

Charity Check

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.

By Scott Bernard Nelson

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Lastmonth, we discussed car donations in this column. But mostpeople who give to good causes do it in a form that can't bedriven to a charity's doorstep--cash or artwork, for instance.Call it a sign of the times, but even writing a check might requiremore legwork these days. That's because in the past year, theIRS has increased its scrutiny of charities, and Congress has heldpublic hearings about nonprofit accountability--or the lack of it.Our nation's leaders, in short, are warning us that not allcharities are created equal. How, then, can you be sure yourphilanthropic dollars are being used for the good works youexpect?

Fortunately, it's pretty easy to take a peek under the hood,financially speaking, of U.S. charities online. Your first stopshould probably be, which has been postingcharities' public filings for more than a decade. Although youhave to register (for free) to access much of the information,you'll be able to find everything from mission statements toboards of directors to the annual Form 990 filings for charitiesyou're considering. You can even establish fixed criteria anduse it to search more than 1 million U.S. charities.

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