That said, the numbers are stunning: Of the $1.3 billion raised by the 50 worst charities, almost $1 billion was paid to companies that do their fundraising. The majority were police, fire and veterans-focused charities, then cancer and other diseases, then kids.

What should I take away from the study?

People love to give—it makes you feel good. I am a HUGE proponent of giving back to the community, and I think the main takeaway from this study is to be an informed donor.

What are the steps to being an informed donor?

First, take your time to vet the organization you want to support. This is particularly important if you are considering giving to a new or unfamiliar charity.

You can do that very easily online. Websites like, and the Better Business Bureau are just a few of the sites that can do the all the background-check work for you.

Another rule of thumb is not to be fooled by charities with worthy-sounding names, or names that might sound similar to other organizations.  Some questionable charities create names that are intended to sound like other well-known charities to mislead potential donors.

Next are the phone rules: If you’re dealing with an aggressive telemarketer, be wary: The faster the pitch, the more you should just say no. First, ask if he or she is working for a percentage of the funds raised, is paid a set salary or fee or is a volunteer. If the telemarketer is taking a percentage of funds raised, hang up the phone. If not, ask what portion of your donation will actually go to the charity, and finally, ask how it will affect local programs.

Every nonprofit has salary, overhead and fundraising costs. People are generous, and there are so many worthwhile causes and extraordinary charities that donors can support.  That why in an ideal world, it’s best to personally know the cause you want to support. Before making a gift, offer to volunteer your time to learn more about the organization and how it is run. And remember, even if you don’t have the financial resources to help, you can still make a difference with good old sweat equity.

Phony Philanthropy  was originally published on

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