Question: The budgets for many programs that benefit youth and families have been cut from the 2002-2003 Colorado state budget. I would like to increase my support for specific programs. How do I make sure my money is being used wisely?
Answer: The Better Business Bureau publishes tips on charitable giving. You can find the entire list of tips at www.bbb.org/about/tipsgive.asp.
Following are some suggestions to keep in mind when you donate to charitable organizations.
- Make sure that the agency that will receive your donation is legitimate. Check out the organization with the Better Business Bureau or the Colorado Attorney General’s office. A new Colorado law, the Colorado Charitable Solicitations Act that was effective May 9, 2002, requires every charitable organization that intends to solicit funds in Colorado to register with the Colorado Secretary of State and update their statements annually. The phone number for the Attorney General’s office is 303-866-4500.
- If you plan to deduct your donation on your tax return, find out if the organization is qualified as "tax deductible." This designation is generally shown as a 501(c)(3) category. Keep records of your donations for next year’s taxes.
In addition to a list of consumer tips for giving, the Better Business Bureau publishes detailed standards for charitable solicitations that you can use as a basis for deciding which organization you would like to make contributions. The standards are detailed and generally go beyond your quest for information, but they do offer programmatic and financial guidelines. You can view the entire list of standards at www.give.org/standards/cbbbstds.asp. Here are brief summaries of some of the standards that can help you make a decision:
- An organization should provide an annual report describing the organization’s purposes and description of overall programs, activities and accomplishments.
- The organization’s financial statement should present the overall financial activities and financial position of the organization.
- A reasonable percentage (at least 50 percent) of the organization’s total income will be used for programs and activities related to the organization’s purpose.
- The organization should have a charter, articles of incorporation, bylaws, etc. that are monitored by a governing body made up of at least three people.
In addition to giving to charitable organizations directly, you can contribute to the United Way and earmark where you would like your contribution to be used. You can also contribute to the Fort Collins Community Foundation, an organization that will make sure your contribution goes to the charity of your choice.