Where to check up on appeals for charitable donations

Giving to those less fortunate than ourselves has long been a tradition in America. But nagging questions may be thinking Americans. It makes sense to evaluate fund-raising appeals.

In 1978 Americans gave $38.3 billion to charities, according to the American Association of Fund-Raising Councils. Of that total, 90 percent came from individuals with the other 10 percent from corporations and foundations.

Unfortunately, not all collected funds go for good purposes.

Regulation of real and suspected abuses is spread among several private organizations, Congress, and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Neither Congress nor the IRS has been particularly effective. The primary control remains with individuals who desire to give but who look for integrity.

Four private charitable giving, and two issue ratings of soliciting organizations according to standards for disclosure, percentage of funds spent on administration and collection, and use of funds collected.

The four organizations include: the Philanthropic Advisory Service of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, 1150 17th Street NW Washington, D.C. 20036; National Information Bureau (NIB), 419 Park Avenue s., New York, N.Y. 10016; United Way of America, 801 N. Fairfax Street, Alexandria, Va. 22314; and National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, 1028 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, D.C. 20036.

The Philanthropic Advisory Service publishes a list of charities noting approval or disapproval. The list is updated regularly. A copy of the latest list is available (see address above) for $1. A similar list is available free from the National Information Bureau. A summary of the lists is also published in "HELP -- The Indispensable Almanac of Consumer Information 1980" (Everest House, 1133 Avenue of the Americas, New York, N.Y. 10036, $8.95).

Solicitations for funds may come by mail, telephone, door-to-door, or street contacts. You can protect your giving by determining the purpose and need of each appeal, evaluating the appeal for possible deception or misrepresentation, and making sure the organization can be reached for more information if desired.

You can turn off intimidating or harassing appeals immediately. But if you are considering making a donation to a group, ask if donations are tax deductible and on what authority, make checks payable to the organization rather than to an individual, and avoid pressure to contribute immediately.

One of the most blatant scams is mail solicitation in the form of a bill or invoice or key chain identification tags, address stickers, greeting cards, and similar goods received without an order. Deceptive bills or invoices are specifically prohibited by federal law unless they bear a disclaimer in large type.

You shouldn't stop giving because of potential misuse of funds or the expense of collection. But, take care and contribute wisely from knowledge you gain by researching appeals.

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