Editorial: Think before you give

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 26, 2011

An Associated Press examination of 9-11 charities finds that some of the money given them has gone unaccounted for or misused, bitter news for their donors. As hurricanes, earthquakes and other misfortunes strike, be sure the donations you give for the victims will be used well. Before you give with your heart, check out these organizations with your head.
Americans poured $1.5 billion into 9-11 charities that promised to serve the victims, their families and memories. Most of those 325 organizations followed the rules to the T ó an important fact, so weíll say it again. Most of the charities followed the rules. But dozens struggled, fell short of promises or did more to help themselves than people affected by the attacks.
For example, money was given for a giant memorial quilt that remains unfinished. People donated money for a 9-11 Garden of Forgiveness that has not materialized, though the founderís salary has materialized ó to the tune of $126,000.
The list goes on. But before you grow cynical about all charities, remember again that most of the charities did what they promised. Instead of cynicism, reports like this should encourage healthy skepticism.
The best way to ensure your money is used properly is to deal with a familiar charity with a good reputation. When in doubt, the Federal Trade Commission passes on these tips for donors (more can be found at www.ftc.gov):
Be wary of charities that spring up overnight in connection with current events or natural disasters. They probably donít have the infrastructure to get the donations to the affected areas or people.
Ask for written information about the charity, including the name, address, and telephone number.
Contact the N.C. Secretary of Stateís Office to see if the charity or fundraiser is registered to solicit funds in the state.
Donít be shy about asking who wants your money. If youíre solicited for a donation, ask if the caller is a paid fundraiser, who they work for, and the percentage of your donation that will go to the charity and to the fundraiser. If you donít like the answer, consider donating to a different organization.
Call the charity. Find out if the organization is aware of the solicitation and has authorized the use of its name. If not, you may be dealing with a scam artist.
Watch out for similar-sounding names. Some phony charities use names that closely resemble those of respected, legitimate organizations. If you notice a small difference from the name of the charity you intend to deal with, call the organization you know to check it out.
If you give, give intelligently. Itís the best way to help the cause you really want to support.