Guide to charitable giving

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The holiday season, and the end of the tax year, motivates many consumers to donate money to their favorite charities.

In fact, according to the Charity Navigator, more than one half of all charitable donations are made during the last six weeks of the year. However, even with this spirit of sharing, the past few years have been difficult for nonprofit organizations, as many of them struggle to raise enough money to continue programs.

Many experts believe Americans are on pace to give less in charitable contributions than in the previous year for only the second time in the past 40 years.

With more than half a million federally recognized charities soliciting contributions, the chances are high that you will be sought after as a donor. The following are some tips from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to ensure that you are giving wisely.

Ask questions. Request identification from the solicitor and read written information provided. Be certain that the organization has a clear mission and identifiable goals.

Be wary of high-pressure appeals. For example, be skeptical if someone thanks you for a pledge that you do not remember making. Legitimate charities should not intimidate you into making an on-the-spot donation.

Do your homework. Before making a donation, call the charity to find out if the organization is aware of the solicitation and has authorized the use of its name.

Do not give cash. For security and tax record purposes, pay by check. Write the official name of the charity on your check and always ask for a receipt in return.

For additional help selecting a charitable organization, visit . A little research up front will make sure that your dollars are put to good use. If the process of selecting a charity seems daunting, remember that everyone benefits from giving.

Involving your children in the selection of and contribution to a charity teaches them valuable lessons about giving from their heart, not just about the value of a dollar.

By contributing to many groups and non-profit organizations, you have the opportunity to make a difference in someone's life by furthering a personal cause.

Charitable gifts made to qualified organizations are tax-deductible. But be sure your organization meets IRS guidelines, because there may be different tax breaks when you donate certain types of assets to charity.

Finally, if your heart and your wallet have different ideas about making monetary donations, it may be time to summon your inner regifter. An unwanted gift, or your time, could be a welcome donation to a charitable organization. Also, consider making it your New Year's resolution to contribute throughout the year. After all, it is good to remember that need knows no season.