Giving Back

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Research important when choosing a charity

Were you nominated to do the ice bucket challenge during the summer of 2014? This fundraiser for ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, swept social media, spurring the participation of private citizens, celebrities and even world leaders. But the challenge also managed to raise awareness and funds to go toward ALS research.

While the ice bucket challenge and similar social media phenomenons are spawned by good intentions, some people feel they pressure participants to donate money. Peer pressure should not be why a person donates to charity. When considering a charitable donation, it might be wise to take the following approach before donating your time and/or money.

• Clarify your motives. Ask yourself why you want to donate? Perhaps you want to pitch in to help do your part in the fight against a societal ill such as homelessness? Or maybe you're motivated to help after witnessing the after effects of a natural disaster? There are many worthy causes out there in need of support, so clarify your motives before donating to be sure you and the organization you ultimately choose to work with or donate to are the right fit.

• Do your research. Verify where your money will be going once your donation is made. Do not hesitate to ask a charity to provide a rundown of where donations go so you can see how funds are allocated. This can help you determine if a charity is worth your efforts.

• Select sustainable charities. You want a nonprofit that can sustain itself. Nonprofits that show a budget deficit for a few years in a row may not be sustainable or capable of fulfilling their mission statements.

• Make sure the charity is legitimate. Part of the problem of peer-pressure-induced donations is they may not give you time to research a charity. Links posted to social media do not guarantee an organization is legitimate. Many dummy organizations that appear exactly the same as legitimate organizations are set up to prey on thoughtful, well-intentioned prospective donors. The United States Internal Revenue Service maintains a list of all organizations registered as charities at www.irs.gov.

• Try volunteering first. Volunteer with a particular organization to get a better feel for its efforts before making any donations. Hands-on research can illustrate how a nonprofit manages funds, treats workers and accomplishes its mission.

Peer pressure to donate to a particular charity may result in impressive fundraising, but it is not always the best way to select a charity. Take your time to research several organizations before choosing who to work with.