It's that time of year when consumers open their wallets to give to their favorite charities.
But before you make any donations, consumer advocates say it's wise to check an organization's background and find out how much it spends on programs and administrative costs.
Consumer experts recommend giving to charities that spend at least 65 percent of their income on program services and no more than 35 percent on overhead, salaries, fundraising, rent, and other administrative costs.
Many Web sites have information about how charities spend their money, including GuideStar or The Better Business Bureau.
The Missouri Attorney General's Office and other state attorneys general also have information about charities on their Web sites.
Many charities have seen a decline in contributions this year because of the ailing economy. That may cause some groups to step up their efforts to convince you to give.
Before you open your checkbook, consumer advocates say you should:
Research the group's finances;
Never make a quick decision, especially during a call from telemarketer. Demand the caller send you written information about the organization. If the caller refuses, hang up.
Never give out personal information — including credit card, bank account or Social Security numbers — to anyone who contacts you by phone or e-mail;
Don't let anyone pressure you into giving. Make donations only after all your questions are answered;
Beware of sound-alike organizations. They may appear to be legitimate groups, but their goal may be to line their pockets instead of helping a cause;
Trust your instincts. If you have any doubts about a group, don't give. There's a good chance you can find another non-profit that does the same kind of work — and doesn't raise any red flags.
Consumer experts say reputable organizations will always discuss their finances and their programs. They don't use high-pressures tactics to get your money, will take "no" for an answer, and will gladly send you any information you request.