by Jan Zauha
Pictures of sad-eyed children and moth-eaten dogs arrive in your home mailbox every week,
it seems. Guilt, fear, remorse, pity, shockŠ unfortunately it all works. Emotional appeals
for charitable giving can inhibit the critical thinking necessary to make good decisions.
As public funding and tax issues become ever more complex, and as mail fraud and telephone
scams multiply, it is increasingly important to get past the emotional issues and approach
charitable giving with open eyes. The Web can help you do this.
Begin your charitable giving education with the Council of Better Business Bureaus' (CBBB) Wise Giving Alliance, a body that collects and distributes
information on hundreds of nonprofit organizations that solicit nationally or have national
or international program services. Even if you don't have a specific organization in mind that
you'd like to check up on, the CBBB site is good because it offers basic information in its
"Tips on Giving" on such topics as questionable charities, on its own standards for charitable
solicitations, and on tax deductions for contributions. Once you know which national charities
you want to explore, you can search the CBBB's Charity Reports Index. You'll be pleased to see,
perhaps, that Ducks Unlimited meets all the standards of the CBBB, or you'll be shocked,
certainly, to find out how much the CEO of the American Heart Association is paid each year.
The American Institute of Philanthropy (AIP) is another nonprofit charity watchdog and information service that seeks to maximize the effectiveness
of charity contributions by helping donors make informed decisions. It offers similar tips for
donors, special alerts, and articles on giving.
An excellent resource for identifying nonprofit organizations of interest to you is the GuideStar database of nonprofits. This searchable database
provides contact and basic financial information. GuideStar provides other valuable resources to
inform and guide your decisions by helping you distinguish between a public charity and a private
foundation, or determine the questions you should ask when evaluating a nonprofit for your own
interests, or understand how to set up a giving plan. To keep you mindful of the need for critical
thinking, GuideStar also publishes a list of donor rights.
Of course, not everyone wants a critical giving experience. If you just feel generous and are
craving an impulse shopping buzz, online giving has become fearfully easy. Independent Charities of Americahas turned charitable giving into a Web retail experience.
A nonprofit itself, ICA "pre-screens high-quality national and international charities and
presents them for your giving consideration." You won't get financial or governance details
when you explore a charity, but you will get contact information, a brief mission overview,
a link to their Web site, and a sampling of "real-life" success stories. You can then add
the charities that appeal to you to your "Give Basket" and take care of the whole bunch in one
big online shopping splurge.
For help locating additional information about charitable giving, call or stop in at the
Renne Library reference desk. If you find Web sites that you think might be of interest to
the MSU community, please send me an e-mail message at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jan Zauha is the reference team leader at the MSU Libraries.