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Be a smart giver!  In today's world you should not respond to just any appeals for help. Instead, find the right charitable organization by doing a little bit of legwork. As a donor, here are some things to help you select a charity:

Verify Non-Profit Status    All charitable organizations that either solicit contributions from Maryland residents or are located in Maryland are required to register with the Office of the Secretary of State (SOS).  One exception to this rule: If a charitable organization collects less than $25,000 in direct public support and does  not engage the services of a professional solicitor to raise funds, the only required form is an exemption notice.  The SOS maintains an online  Maryland Charities Database  that provides information about the purpose of a charity, the amount of money a charity has raised, and the percentage of money used for charitable purposes and administrative costs.  Once you have confirmed that the charity is registered in Maryland, you should review third party websites which review charities, their finances, and works and provides a report card.

Administrative Costs   Not all charities use the majority of th e money donated to actually assist the cause they purport to help. Some charities use the majority of the fund collected for "administrative costs."  These costs include overhead expenses, administrative salaries, program expenses, and fundraising costs, if any.  In Maryland, charities must provide a financial statement, upon request, disclosing the the total revenue received, and the amount and percentage of total revenue spent for the charity's administrative costs.  The SOS provides this information in an online searchable website

Tax Exempt or Tax Deductible   Know the difference between "tax exempt" and "tax deductible."  Tax exempt means the organization does not have to pay taxes.  Tax deductible means you can deduct your contribution on your federal income tax return.  Even if an organization is tax exempt, your contribution may not be tax deductible.  If a tax deduction is important to you, ask for a receipt showing the amount of your contribution and stating that it is tax deductible.  Consult a tax advisor if you need additional assistance.

For additional information on charities, visit the Office of the Secretary of State's Charitable Organization Division's website or call them at 800.825.4510. The Federal Trade Commission also has useful information on how you can research charities and avoid charity scams.