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<< The thing is, I can't just pick out a charity from the phone book, or suggest one that I've heard about. She wants me to to good research, to figure out where the money goes and to know that she's getting the best bang for her charitable buck.>>

Sounds like a very Foolish lady. You should be proud.

<< All this sounds good to me. Once I finish grad school and have a steady income, I do intend to make regular charitable contributions, and I don't want to just give my money away without feeling reasonably confident that it'll do some good. Tax deductions would be nice too (hence this board), but probably won't be my first concern.>>

Very Foolish of you. But don't lose sight of the fact that you can be very, very charitable AND generate some decent tax deductions at the same time. Like icing on the cake. So make sure to be informed enough so that you can make taxwise charitible contribution decisions.

<<Is there any place on-line where knowledgeable people discuss the pros and cons of variouse charitable organizations?>>

Nothing that I really know about that I'm happy with. But I'll give you some other resources.

The National Charities Information Bureau in New York City (212-929-6300) publishes a free list of organizations that do and do not meet their guidelines and standards. You'll want to check these out for non-religious type giving (although a few are included). The Philanthropic Advisory Service in Arlington, VA offers a similar list for $2.00 (703-276-0100). Of the two organizations, I believe that the NCIB is more skeptical of charity accounting, and is the organization that I normally refer to friends and clients.

Finally, before you give to a charity that you are unfamilar with, request to see a copy of their most recent IRS Form 990 (the annual tax return for the charity). While you may not be able to understand the Form completely, you can easily the salaries of the organization's top people. That is why (in my opinion), many organizations refuse to send out the Form 990s. Annual tax returns for public charities are NOT secret documents (like your own personal tax return), but instead are open to public inspection by law. You can get a copy of the Form 990 for any charity directly from the IRS, if your frustration level is VERY high, and you have plenty of time to wait.

The Form 990 will also disclose information about operating expenses and direct program expenses. You will be able to see (to a certain degree), how much money the charity collects actually goes directly to programs, and other good works, and how much goes to fundraiser firms.

Althought may charities play fast and loose with the preparation of their (legally, sadly, since the accounting guidelines are old and obscure), reviewing the Form 990 is really your best protection to see where the money goes.

That's the best I got for you right now. If you do a web search and find a location that fits your needs, please let us know where it might be so we can keep our information updated.

TMF Taxes
Roy Lewis
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