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Check your charity before you donate

December 15, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
'Tis the season to be giving. But before you open up your pocketbook to your favorite charity, you might want to find out how they spend your contributions. There's a fast and easy way to check out a charity's efficiency before you write them a check.

Holidays are for giving, and it's when charities see the most donations.

At Goodwill Industries in Lincoln Heights,

"We serve a lot of people. Actually this year we will have served more than 100,000 individuals in the Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside county areas," said Sash Itzikman, Goodwill Southern California.

But before you donate your goods or money, it's best to know which charities do the best job of making sure your hard-earned cash gets to those in need.

One place to find that out is CharityNavigator.org.

"Most people, when they make their charitable-giving decisions, it starts with the heart, it's a very heartfelt, emotional connection with the organization," said Ken Berger, Charity Navigator president and CEO. "And that's great. The problem is that in many cases it doesn't go beyond that."

On Charity Navigator, Goodwill Industries gets four stars, the highest rating. The reason is that for every dollar they raise, it only costs them 5 cents.

"That's outstanding," said Berger. "That shows real efficiency in their fundraising."

Another charity at the top of the list, with four stars, is the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank. They're so efficient it costs them just 2 cents to raise a dollar.

On the other side of the donated coin is the Nancy Davis Foundation for Multiple Sclerosis. It gets a score of no stars on Charity Navigator.

"Forty-four percent of the funds are going to program, and that is exceptionally bad," said Berger.

Another zero-star charity is HomeAid of Orange County. HomeAid builds shelters for pregnant women and their babies.

Scott Larson, president of HomeAid, disagrees with the score, because it is more than money that is donated.

"If you donated architectural services, the IRS law does not allow that to show up in the tax return," said Larson. "So this facility, the building you're standing in right now, has $300,000 in revenue that was donated to the project that would never show up in Charity Navigator."

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