OK, so you know that you're interested in a general cause (e.g., "a Jewish charity," "a homeless shelter charity," "a midget charity"...). Before you give away your hard-earned money, you need to make sure that your donation is going to a reputable organization. We don't mean to be cynical Gen-Xers or anything, but there are a lot of scams out there (e.g., The Foundation to Provide Fancy Meals for Poor SoYouWanna.net Writers). So you must be absolutely sure that your charity is legit.

Lucky for you, there are lots of places you can go to check out an organization:

  1. Start with the IRS, which provides a list of all of the organizations that have received tax exempt status. These are the groups that have been approved by the government because they have complied with the laws surrounding the forming, organizing, and running of a non-profit.

  2. The Give.org site provides a database of approved organizations, as well as general advice and information for donors.

  3. The Federal Trade Commission, which lists tips for donors such as:

    • Ask for written information. A legitimate charity will give you information outlining its mission, how your donation will be distributed, and proof that your contribution is tax deductible.

    • Watch out for similar sounding names. Some phony charities use names that sound or look like those of respected, legitimate organizations. (The same kind of trick that schools like "Harvurd" and "Kornell" use.)

    • Refuse high-pressure appeals. Legitimate charities won't push you to give on the spot.

    • Don't send cash. For security and tax record purposes, pay by check. Write the official name of the charity on your check.
  4. The Better Business Bureau has a portion of its site devoted to donating money. Go to their charity section to get reports on specific charities, ask about a charity, lodge a complaint against a charity, and get more tips on charitable giving.

  5. The Chronicle of Philanthropy provides the latest news on the goings on in the non-profit world. This site also highlights charities that have been identified by watchdog groups as especially deserving and reputable.