How to choose the right charity this holiday season

This is the time of year when many of us extend the idea of giving to our favorite charities. In fact, about 20-percent of all charitable giving occurs in December.

But how to know which charity to choose?

Consumer Reports reveals some simple ways to make sure your money is doing the most good.

It's a number that might surprise you. Last year, Americans gave over $292 billion to charity, and during the holiday season, many of us feel even more charitable.

"I try to give as much as I can to the homeless," said one person.

"Definitely want to do more for the kids," said another.

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Whatever you wish to support, Consumer Reports says to research any specific charity before you donate.

"Some might spend too much money on administrative costs or fundraising expenses, while a few could be outright scams," said Consumer Reports Money Editor Penny Wang.

Good charities are transparent and make it easy for you to learn about their values.

"Check the charity's website for information about its mission, a list of the board of directors and its latest financial reports," Wang said.

She also suggests to look for the IRS form 990. Most larger charities are required to file it. Accreditation by the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance requires charities spend at least 65-percent of their total expenses on charitable missions, and no more than 35-percent on fundraising.

Also make sure you are always be wary of unsolicited appeals, especially on social media.

"If you're contacted by a professional fundraiser, you might consider giving directly to a charity instead. The fundraiser might keep 75 to 90 percent of the money," Wang said.

Consumer Reports also said be on the lookout for "sound-alike" charities. They might be trading off the reputation of a recognized charity but don't meet the Wise Giving standards.

You can visit CharityNavigator.org or CharityWatch.org for charity reviews and rankings so you can feel confident you're picking a worthy group.
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