We all receive those same email, telephone or direct mail solicitations from a charitable organization asking for a donation to support a needy group. It isn’t easy to say no as the solicitors are well trained at pulling your heart strings to get you to open up your wallet. But a better plan is a thoughtful approach to philanthropy to avoid knee jerk reactions based solely on emotion.

Sometimes the charities or callers are ones you recognize. Other times, they are organizations you’ve never heard of. One reader recently reported to me he received a suspicious fundraising call and decided to forward the number to the local police department. The police later informed him the call came from a disposable cellphone – likely not from a legitimate charity, but from a scam artist trying to take advantage of your good nature.

I am not writing this to thwart your future generosity, but rather to provide guidance on researching an organization before donating your hard earned money.

The first major concern is whether the charity is a legitimate not-for-profit organization. If it is not, under an IRS audit, your charitable deduction would be disallowed. To check this, you can simply confirm their registration at the secretary of state’s office. But doing this alone is not nearly enough.

For those really wanting to go deep, ask the charity to supply you with access to its annual report, audited financial statements and IRS form 990. These should tell everything you need to know. You can check www.charitynavigator.org, which answers common questions about charities and charitable giving.

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By John P. Napolitano CFP®, CPA, PFS, MST Founder & CEO Read More