Local Charities: What to Look For When You Donate Locally

A charity worth donating to will be a transparent charity.

No Contest winner last week.

Contest update:  ().  JT Simons, P.A., is holding a contest for you to figure out the hidden trivia question in this article. If you win, JT Simons, P.A., will donate $25 to charity. In short, figure out the hidden trivia question, send an email with the answer to JT Simons, and make sure your nonprofit is legitimate. Remember, send the answer to jts@simonslawfirm.com, subject line CONTEST ENTRY, and give me as much information as you can about the nonprofit you want the donation to go to. I need to verify it. I need your first name and the first letter of your last name.

Over the last couple weeks, I have been overwhelmed with charity events, fundraising, and interviewing local nonprofit charities. In fact, as I write this, I am camping out at my office for four days trying to raise money for Family Partnerships and their www.buildingfamilies411.com event. Patch.com is a premier sponsor of this event.

The purpose of this article is to assist you in choosing local charities you can trust are legitimate. The idea for this story came from The Legally Steal Show, who is a contributor to patch.com as well. While choosing the right charity is matter of choosing those causes that matter to you the most, choosing a legitimate charity may take a little work. While perhaps a $25 donation does not require the thorough investigation in this article, a large donation demands an in-depth analysis.

The first thing you should do when choosing a charity, at least in Florida, is go to the Florida Department of State, Division of Corporations website. You can search for the name of the charity on this site. The first thing to look for when you find the charity is to see whether it is listed as a “Florida Non Profit Corporation” or otherwise identified as a non-profit organization. 

Next, contact the charity directly and ask to see its IRS Determination Letter.  The IRS determination letter is the most important legal document a nonprofit organization has and it recognizes the organization’s tax-exempt status. However, the nonprofit must continue to meet the IRS standards each year to maintain its status. You should also ask to see the nonprofit’s yearly filings with the IRS. For example, Family Partnerships is required to file an IRS Form 990 each year. You should ask to see these forms and a legitimate charity will have them readily available to you.

Additionally, legitimate nonprofit organizations will show you their books with full transparency. The charity or nonprofit should be able to show you what percentage of donations go to administrative expenses, supplies, and/or directly to the non-profit's cause.

With these four steps, you will not only determine whether the nonprofit is legitimate, but you will also determine how efficient and forthcoming the nonprofit is. 

You should also determine what type of donation you want to make. You can make general donations or restricted donations. When you make a general donation, the nonprofit can use your donation for any purpose it wants. For example, if you make a general donation to an animal shelter, the animal shelter can use the donation for food, medicine, or employee wages. If you were to restrict your donation to food only, the nonprofit can use the donation only for purchasing food for the animals at the shelter. 

I take no shame in advocating for my charities and I hope you take no shame in answering this trivia question to advocate for your charity. For www.buildingfamilies411.com, what is Family Partnerships raising money to build? You can find out at the website or by watching the camp-out videos at http://www.youtube.com/user/jtsatucd

Jennifer Bement July 02, 2012 at 01:02 PM
Another good resource when researching non-profits is Charity Navigator (http://www.charitynavigator.org/) - in order for a non-profit to receive the seal of approval from Charity Navigator, they must pass stringent criteria and be completely transparent in their workings. For instance, Southeastern Guide Dogs (www.guidedogs.org) has received their highest rating - 4 stars (a higher ranking than any other American guide dog school). Jennifer Bement, Southeastern Guide Dogs
Jeremy T. Simons, Esq. July 02, 2012 at 07:50 PM
Thank you Jennifer. The more information available to the community the better. I checked out the website and it is a great resource.
Susie Bowie July 03, 2012 at 12:44 PM
Hi Jeremy, this year 4 local foundations (Community Foundation of Sarasota County, Gulf Coast Community Foundation, Manatee Community Foundation and The Patterson Foundation) launched a local online tool to help donors learn more about the nonprofits they care about and to see whether those nonprofits are effectifve and efficient. It includes all of the information you mentioned and a lot more. You can find The Giving Partner online at www.thegivingpartner.org.


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