Experts determine best charities for donations

FORT MYERS, Fla. (CONSUMER REPORTS) — ‘Tis the season for giving, including to charities.

Donations in December are almost twice as high than any other month, the Giving USA Foundation reported. But is all that money being spent wisely?

Consumer Reports reveals some of the highest and lowest-rated charities as determined by major charity watchdogs, and educates donors on how to find out about their spending.

Carlene Blanchfield doesn’t just write checks for charities. She’s also volunteered — as she did in Haiti after the devastating earthquake in 2010. But first she does her research.

“You have to make sure that the organization is transparent, that the money is going to the group that they’re saying it’s going to,” she said.

Consumer Reports said the nonprofit watchdogs Charity Navigator, Charity Watch and the BBB Wise Giving Alliance rate thousands of nationally known charities.

“One of the red flags to look for is whether a charity’s spending on fundraising seems way out of whack,” said Anthony Giorgianni of Consumer Reports.

For instance, according to Charity Navigator, The Disabled Veterans National Foundation of Washington, D.C. has earned poor ratings because about 60 percent of its spending goes to fundraising.

By contrast, just seven percent of spending at another veterans’ charity, — The Mission Continues — goes to fundraising.

Don’t assume a charity gives much to the cause touted in its name.

“Take the Walker Cancer Research Institute in Maryland,” Giorgianni said. “A paltry four percent of the amount it spent recently went to its programs, including cancer research. That’s according to Charity Navigator.”

However, just because a charity isn’t rated, doesn’t mean it’s not worthy of a donation, as smaller charities are often not rated by the watchdog groups.

To vet a local charity, look at its website to find a breakdown of its spending. Donors can also talk to the people who run it or volunteer.

It’s important to note that in order to get a tax deduction for a charitable gift, donors need to make the donation before Dec. 31. If the donation is mailed, keep in mind that the last day of the year is a Sunday.

Reporter:Lindsey Sablan