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By Jim Donovan

By Jim Donovan

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Have you made any donations to a charity this year? Americans are more likely to donate to a good cause during the holidays. But you really should do some homework before you write out a check.

It’s common for charities to make an end of the year push for donations. But when donating to non-profit organizations there is a big difference as to where your money goes and how it is spent.

“There are a lot of great charities out there, but there are also some scoundrels and thieves,” says Ken Berger, CEO and President of Charity Navigator, a national watchdog group that tracks non-profit organizations.

On the Charity Navigator website you can find out how a charity spends its donations and how much actually goes to the mission it supports.

For example, if you have $100 to give, according to Charity Navigator the U.S. Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots Foundation would put $97 of that amount towards their program. The American Red Cross would apply $92 to their cause.

But on the other end of the scale the National Police Defense Foundation only passes along $17 of every $100 it receives to officers. And the National Vietnam Veterans Foundation gives a mere $9 of every $100 to former service people.

“It was a big surprise to us how much poor performance we found among organizations that help police, firefighters, and veterans,” says Berger. He believes that a charity’s biggest mistake is depending on telemarketers, who sometimes pocket the bulk of your donation.

“Our advice is to hang up the phone and never give over the phone,” he says

That’s because the person on the end of the line is likely a paid telemarketer. In fact the founder of the National Police Defense Foundation says they don’t have the personnel to personally solicit donations, so it hires professional fundraisers. Those fundraising professionals are paid 75 percent of donations generated.

By the way, the Better Business Bureau also evaluates charities too.

For more information on Charity Navigator, visit: www.charitynavigator.com.

For more information on Better Business Bureau, visit: www.bbb.org/us/charity.

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