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'Tis the season when consumers spend more money on material things than any other time of the year. But it's also when they are the most generous. Charitable giving peaks in December, and charities ramp up their solicitations big time.

If you listen to the radio, you've probably heard the Kars4Kids jingle more times than you care to. But that solicitation is a good place to start to think about how giving should work.

While that jingle is among the more noticeable pitches, plenty more will come by mail, phone, and e-mail. But do you know what these charities do? Whom they help? How much of your money will be spent on the cause?

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Kars4Kids doesn't say in its advertising why it wants your cars and what it does with the proceeds. Would it surprise you that Kars4Kids largely supports a related Orthodox Jewish charity and its efforts to promote education and summer camps? That's fine, if that's a cause you want to back.

The best way to go about charitable giving is to identify a cause you believe in, and then do some homework. You can check out larger charities by using such websites as CharityNavigator.org, Give.org, and Guidestar.org.

You can research local charities through the Attorney General's website. You will find out if they are properly registered. You'll also be able to review financial reports.

It's also a good idea to do an Internet search on the organization to see what else turns up — good, bad, or informational. If something seems crazy, like an old post buzzing around Facebook recently that falsely claimed (among other things) that Goodwill Industries is a for-profit corporation and March of Dimes "is called the March of Dimes because only a dime for every 1 dollar is given to the needy," double-check the information.

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Choosing a charity not only will direct your contribution where you want it to go but also keep you from paying a percentage — often a significant one — to for-profit solicitors. Charities count on your donations, but decide which ones you want to help.


Mitch Lipka has been helping consumers out of jams for the past two decades. He lives in Worcester and can be reached at consumernews@ aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @mitchlipka.