Many Americans now name one or more charities in their Wills or other estate planning documents to help these important cultural and humanitarian groups maintain adequate funding. However, others less familiar with charitable giving need to understand that, before arranging these types of gifts, they must carefully evaluate each charity or non-profit group to be sure their funds will be shared properly.
Fortunately, there are several reputable organizations that will readily help consumers decide which charitable or non-profit groups are properly using all their donations while minimizing administrative costs. These same “watchdog” groups often urge all charitable groups to maintain open donation and expenditure records. In addition, our Texas Attorney General’s Office has put together some useful tips that can help all of us do a better job of deciding which charities will be the most responsible recipients of our testamentary gifts.
Here’s a list of basic tips that can help all of us better evaluate all non-profits and charities. That information is followed by a list of different websites and groups dedicated to providing consumers with current news about charitable activities. Of course, it’s always best to start your search by first visiting with your Houston estate planning attorney who may already know about the reputations of many charitable organizations.
Important Information to Obtain While Choosing Charities to Include in Your Estate Plan
- First, be sure to obtain the full legal name of each group, its address and telephone number. Next, ask if the IRS has formally recognized it as a public charity that’s tax exempt. Then, ask if your donations will all be fully tax deductible.
- Find out how long the non-profit or charity (hereinafter just referenced as ‘charity’) has been in existence. While longevity doesn’t always ensure completely honest and frugal management of funds, it does mean that it should be easier to research the group’s reputation by visiting several of the online sources named below.
- Request a recent annual report that clearly indicates how much money the group spends on administrative costs and how much of every donated dollar will directly benefit those the charity is seeking to help.
- Find out if the charity’s main goals are related to education, medical services, scientific and medical research – or perhaps providing scholarships to those pursuing careers in specific vocational fields.
- Do not give the group any of your private bank account or credit card information during your investigative calls – although it’s best to be honest about your intentions. Also, if you’re not ready to receive numerous emails or letters to your home address, avoid giving that type of information out right now.
Be sure to ask members of your professional or business circles if any of them have had positive experiences with the charities that interest you the most. When any charity has a publicly named board of directors, consider contacting those individuals directly by phone to ask them about their experiences with handling tasks on behalf of the charity.
When you’re ready, start visiting some of the websites set forth below to see what you can find out about each of the charities that seem to be highly reputable.
Online Websites Offering Detailed Information About Various Charities
- Give.org. This website includes the sub-title, “BBB Wise Giving Alliance.” On its page dedicated to donors, it states that you can look up information about each charity’s effectiveness, governance, finances – and current brochures or other materials available to the public.
- The American Institute of Philanthropy (Charity Watch). Among its various offerings, this website offers a list of charitable groups involved with some highly specific causes and issues.
- Guidestar. This online resource offers a wide array of information about many reputable non-profit groups.
- Charity Navigator. Like the other websites already named above, this one offers timely information about many charities. It also provides a “hot topics” link that will tell you more about charities currently in the news for one reason or another.
All four of the oversight groups listed above are noted on the Texas Attorney General website. You can also find out additional information about specific charities by visiting this Consumer Reports page.
If you haven’t already thought about giving to a charity or non-profit when you pass away, please consider doing so now. All Texans need to do a bit more to help others so our state can become more compassionate — and improve our current ranking for charitable giving.
Please feel free to contact our firm so we can explain some of the best ways to include charities as beneficiaries in your estate plan. There are specific legal ways of handling this task so that your estate will reap the best tax advantages available.