BUZ LIVINGSTON: So this is Christmas: Give smart; avoid scams

Published: Monday, December 9, 2013 at 02:45 PM.

The year-end Christmas rush also means an increase in charitable donations. Carefully select any charity or non-profit. Infamous bank-robber Willie Sutton enlightened us years ago, “That’s where the money is.” Don’t let the possibility of foul play stop your good intentions, but be careful and do your research.

Avoid any charity that refuses to provide details about costs or its mission. Fraudsters aren’t dumb and often they copy-cat legitimate charities with similar names. Google search the exact name of the charity. Use America’s largest independent charity evaluator, Charity Navigator (www.charitynavigator.org) to dig into finances.  Understand some new charities will not be listed.

Charity Navigator also provides guidelines for charitable giving and rates charities with stars, zero for poor, and four stars for excellent.

Taking a page from David Letterman, Charity Navigator has several Top Ten lists both naughty and nice. The Top Ten Consistently Low Rated Charities List showcases charities with the most consecutive years with zero stars. Sunshine State residents should be aware we have a top 10 entry — State of Florida Association of Police Athletic/Activities Leagues, Inc.

For four consecutive years this South Florida based non-profit earned zero stars. More than 55 percent of its revenue went to administration or fundraising expenses and CEO pay was more than 8 percent. These numbers pale to the top dog, National Veterans Services, Inc., which has 10 years with zero stars. Most recent data shows only 18 percent of expenses dedicated to program expenses. 

Just like hedge funds and mutual funds there is nothing illegal about high expenses, but fraud is another story.

An Ohio jury recently convicted John David Cody, alias Bobby Thompson, for looting $100 million dollars using the United States Navy Veterans Association. The organization’s 2008 tax return showed an astonishing 99 percent of donations charged to overhead (The Tampa Bay Times, March 20, 2012).

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