Before you give
FIND OUT EXACTLY WHO'S CALLING
Ask if the caller is a paid telemarketer. Get the exact name and location of the charity he or she represents. Beware of charities that mimic the names of well-established groups and of claims that you've given before to a charity you've never heard of.
FIND OUT EXACTLY WHERE YOUR DONATION WILL GO
How much gets to the charity? How much does the fundraiser keep? Don't let them brush your questions off with generalities. They know the exact percentage. Make them tell you.
FIND OUT WHAT THEY DO WITH YOUR MONEY
Ask for examples of the charity's good deeds. Beware of vague claims like "promoting awareness" or "educating the public." And if the group claims to help a local veterans' hospital or children's burn camp, check it out. Call the local nonprofit that supposedly benefitted and ask if it has ever heard of the charity that's asking for your donation.
IF YOU GET A CALL, KNOW THERE'S A COST
Cold-calling donors is one of the most expensive ways to raise money. Charities that use paid telemarketers often let the fundraisers keep 80 to 90 cents of every $1 raised. Most of the money you think is going to needy veterans or dying kids is paying telemarketers' overhead and profit.
HANG UP AND GIVE DIRECTLY
If get a call and want to give, don't hand over your credit card number or start writing a check. Hang up and do some homework. A few quick Internet searches can uncover charities that have been criticized for high fundraising costs or unfulfilled promises.
If the charity meets your standards, contact it directly. More of your donation will go to the cause you care about.
There are many resources to help you choose a good charity. Some state governments post giving guides. And charity watchdogs grade charities or post reviews from people who gave to a charity or received its assistance.
DATABASE OF REGULATORY ACTIONS
Search charities and fundraisers to see if they've been disciplined by regulators and find out more details about how much money the 50 worst charities have paid to their fundraisers and spent on their cause over the past decade.
FLORIDA GIFT-GIVERS' GUIDE
Find out if a charity is registered to solicit in Florida and get details of their latest IRS tax filing.
This website uses a four-star system to rate charities based on their financial performance and accountability. It also shows how the charity ranks compared to others doing similar work.
Find a charity's latest IRS 990 filing and read personal reviews on this website. Access to recent IRS documents is free with registration.
This site grades about 600 large charities based on the amount spent on programs and the cost to raise money. Though some information is available for free, a copy of the group's comprehensive rating guide, published three times a year, is only available with a $50 membership.
BETTER BUSINESS BUREAU WISE GIVING ALLIANCE
The Better Business Bureau rates 1,200 nationally soliciting charities in relation to 20 broad accountability standards that address charity governance, finances, appeal accuracy and other matters. Local Better Business Bureaus produce another 10,000 reports on locally soliciting charities. All reports are available for free online, searchable by charity name.