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A Holiday Guide to Charitable Gift Giving
Give Wisely and Well and With Holiday Spirit
Whether it's putting a quarter in the Salvation Army Red Kettle, volunteering at the local animal shelter, or writing an annual check to a major international charity, most of us embrace the spirit of giving at this time of year. For some of us that means giving money or goods. For others it means volunteering time and giving to both individuals and organizations. Whatever the word "holiday" means to you, part of its meaning is having a smile in your heart and connecting with the world in a joyous way. Christmas may mean Santa and reindeer and lots of prezzies under the tree, but it also means sharing and giving to others. Ditto Hanukkah and Kwanza. Whatever holiday you celebrate, giving to others is part of the deal.
But. before you start giving money or making major donations of things or your time, it is wise to follow a few simple rules. As the old saying goes" " It's better to be safe than sorry." When your heart is open, as it is at this time of year, you can be easy prey for the hucksters and questionable organizations that are always on the prowl, but particularly active over the Christmas and New Years period.
Check Out Every Non Profit Before You Donate
Especially if you are donating money or substantial goods (like a car), do your homework before you open your checkbook or hand over your credit card. You should check every non profit you consider getting involved with in any way at Charity Watch, or Charity Navigator.org. Another useful site is the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance, where you can search accredited U.S. based charities in their extensive database, get tips on spotting fraud, and perhaps even find out about some worthy organizations you might want to support in the future.
These are established, non-profit, watchdog websites which are dedicated to making sure charities are registered and transparent in their financial reporting. They can tell you everything from what percentage of your gift goes to the people or cause it is intended for, to how much money the people who run the charity make and who is on the board. It all makes for very interesting reading and while you may not find your local boy scout troop or animal shelter listed there, you will find a surprising number of regional and smaller non profits on their radar, as well as a broad range of national and international organizations dedicated to a an amazing variety of good causes.
Check out Online Holiday Scams
- Scam Alert: How this new gift card crime targets online Christmas shoppers
It starts when you find a great deal online and all the reviews seem positive.
- 12 Holiday Scams to Guard Against: Christmas 2015 | Patch
Watch out for fake charities, online efforts to steal your personal and banking information, and gift card scams
- Don't Get Snowed By These Holiday Scams.
Scam artists don't take a break during the holidays. Be informed about these seven types of scams.
- Computers (Virus Hoaxes & Realities) : snopes.com
Information about computer viruses and virus hoaxes.
Online Spammers and Scammers
While we are talking about charitable giving, let's not forget about the outright scammers who lurk online at this time of year, and use the holiday season to try even harder to get hold of your personal and financial information or to infect your computer with malware. 'Tis the season to be jolly and also very very careful online. Fake charities are big at this time of year. It goes without saying that unsolicited phone calls from so called charities benefiting police, firemen, veterans, or anybody else for that matter, should be hung up on. People who show up on your doorstep asking for money? Tell them to give you some written information and you'll consider it and say good bye. Online threats can be a little more subtle. Online hucksters will often send out millions of emails touting charities which don't actually exist. As always, they want you to click on an embedded link in the email.
Also, don't assume that a notice from Fed Ex or UPS or the United States Postal Service is real. Scammers send out millions of these via email at this time of year, always with the promise of some kind of gift or gain if you click on an embedded link. You've heard it before, but I'm going to say it again. Never, EVER. click on such a link, no matter what they are promising. Always go to the company website yourself and check to make sure the link is real first. Chances are it's not.
Fake notices and solicitations from fake charities will almost never include your name or any identifying information such as addresses or routing numbers. They are also usually sent from a yahoo or g-mail account, and not the company website. Be suspicious of an order confirmation of an order you don't remember placing, a notice from a bank where you don't have and account or credit card, and any unexpected email notification. Anything from a sweepstakes to the fabled Nigerian prince scam should set off alarm bells for you. There are dozens, if not hundreds of variations. Play it safe. Never click on a link inside an email from someone you don't know.
Another way scammers trick you into downloading malware onto your computer is via Christmas and holiday themed ringtones for your smartphone and screensavers for your laptop. Be very careful about downloading them. Ditto e-holiday cards. Do not open an e-card that arrives with no specific, recognizable company name. If there is a confirmation code and a company name, go to the issuer's website and open the card there. If not, delete it. Do not click on any embedded links.
But, I digress. Back to charitable giving during the Holiday season.
Gifts That Make a Difference
Enough about all the scammers out there. Let's concentrate on some of the wonderful ways to share the gifts(and the giving) by really helping those in need. It's a great way to fight off the Holiday blues, bond with your office-mates, or teach your children about thinking of others. Here are a few suggestions:
Heifer International is a world wide, charity dedicated to fighting hunger and poverty. Their gift catalog is just perfect whether you want to donate twenty dollars or two thousand. You can contribute to buying cows, chickens, goats, rabbits, pigs and other farm animals to make a third world family self sufficient and hunger-free. The organization also helps bring sustainable agriculture and clean water to rural, third world villages. It basically offers a hand up instead of a handout, teaching modern agricultural and animal husbandry skills. You can give to Heifer in the name of a friend or loved one ( living or dead) and the organization will send a personalized card whether you give towards one little chicken or buy a whole cow. Check it out.
Cards That Give.com directs you to nearly 300 organizations that sell holiday greeting cards, e-cards, and tribute cards to help fund their charitable work. The cards are beautiful and the site is easy to navigate and well vetted. You will find causes and specific organizations there that you already know and love. If you buy holiday cards anyway, why not buy them from a charity which will use the money for a worthy cause? This website gives you a wide variety of good charities to choose from.
American Cancer Society If you have a personal connection to cancer, you might want to consider a holiday gift in honor of,or in remembrance of, a friend or loved one, You can donate online (via the above link) and send a card announcing the gift all in one simple step. And you will help fund a very good cause.
OxFam America Unwrapped Oxfam's website contains a broad range of charitable gifts. You choose one from their online catalog, donate in the name of your friend, family member or colleague and Oxfam sends a card or e-card announcing your gift.
May Your Holiday Be Bright
Whatever holiday you do or don't celebrate, may this season bring you joy and peace. Giving a gift that gives to others can be an antidote to the institutionalized materialism that seems to abound and who doesn't like to feel like they are helping others who are less fortunate than they are? These are just a few suggestions of ways to give to charity during the Holiday season along with a few warnings to keep you safe from the on-lline Grinches who want to steal Christmas from all of us. Happy holidays, everybody and here's to a happy, healthy New Year.