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Posted: 1:12 p.m. Friday, Dec. 23, 2011

A year-end guide for charitable giving

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Each year at this time, Americans prove themselves to be the most generous people on planet Earth. We as a nation give more to charity than any other people anywhere else. But if you are considering giving a donation this Christmas season, how can you ensure you're giving to the right people?

You may get mailers from a lot of charities or supposed charities pretending to be legitimate this time of year. In the latter case, too often they often have names that are very similar to legitimate groups. In other cases, you may have an otherwise legit charity that means wells,  but they don't spend your charitable contributions wisely.

Envelope after envelope that shows up at my home is stuffed with return address labels. One that came yesterday had a Forever stamp, while another one had a nickel! All these things you get make you feel a sense of obligation to give to an organization that may or may not be legitimate. My executive producer Christa even got a rosary from one Catholic charity!

What all these entities are doing is using deep psychology, according to Real Simple magazine, something called the rule of reciprocity. It's the idea that, "They sent this, so I've just got to donate..." No, you don't have to! You should give not out of guilt, but out of pleasure.

Once upon a time in my TV work, I dressed up in a Santa suit and stood on a corner with a bucket. The bucket had a professional looking label that said "Homeless Families Fund." Though I didn't ask anybody for money (I just stood there) one out of seven drivers on average gave me money -- from coins to $20 bills. I turned around and gave the money I collected to one of my favorite charities, Habitat for Humanity, but what if I was a con artist and pocketed the gains?!

I want to be sure your get the most bank for your buck. So here's my advice:

  • Give to organizations that you have firsthand knowledge of. Maybe you volunteered with a group or maybe you benefited from their services. 
  • Don't give based on a phone call, a mailer or being pressured by an in-person solicitor.
  • Take your time making up your mind and use websites like CharityNavigator.com and Give.org to vet charities online. Both sites will allow you to check the exact name of a charity to make sure you're giving to legit groups.



Editor's note: This segment originally aired Dec. 9, 2011

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