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Be charitable, but be wise
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UMW's philanthropy class focused on her advice when designing its mission statement and researching the 51 applications it received. Their professor, Robert Rycroft, had emailed notices to the nearly 500 area charities in the database he created and has maintained since the class started in 2005. The organizations in it range from Rappahannock United Way and its member agencies to groups involved in art therapy for children.
"You name a social ill, and there's a foundation or organization to fight it," he said. "The length and breadth of charitable activities in this area is very impressive."
The students in the philanthropy class get to create their own mission statement, and this year's group wanted to improve the welfare of the disadvantaged of the greater Fredericksburg area by providing financial support to regional nonprofits that promote health and education.
They looked for programs that were stable and would use the donation to increase their capacity to serve. Each applicant had to submit a copy of its Form 990, which larger tax-exempt charities must file with the IRS; an audit of its books, and information about such things as who it serves and how the money would be used.
"We definitely paid close attention to salaries of executive directors," Gibson said. "If they were high, that was a red flag for us."
She said she and her classmates also checked such sites as GuideStar.com, a free website that posts information about charities' missions, programs, leaders, goals and accomplishments. Recently, they awarded $2,400 for the Moss Free Clinic's diabetes management and diabetes home-testing programs, $3,600 for Stafford Junction's Helping Us Grow Strong program for 3- and 4-year-olds, and $4,000 for Rappahannock Legal Services to purchase new computers.
"I think the thing I learned is that you can have an impact even if you donate just $10 or $20 a year," Gibson said, "and it's a good habit to get into."
Cathy Jett: 540/374-5407
Here are the Better Business Bureau Foundation's tips for consumers who want to make wise charitable donations: VERIFY VALIDITY: Don't let emotional appeals and high-pressure tactics dictate donations. Visit bbb.org/charity to research local BBB Charity Reviews. Use online search engines and databases like GuideStar.org and CharityNavigator.org. SPOTLIGHT SPENDING: According to BBB's 20 Standards of Charity Accountability, publicly soliciting charities should spend at least 65 percent of total expenses on program activities.
Be leery when solicitors declare that all proceeds go to the cause, but fail to substantiate claims. Seek out the Internal Revenue Service Form 990 from publicly soliciting charities; this form should be made available with appeals.PROTECT PAYMENTS: Avoid giving cash, and make checks payable to charities, not individual solicitors. Always request receipts or confirmation codes for donations.
--Better Business Bureau