Choosing charities

Many nonprofit charities, organizations and missions across the world have helped and changed many lives in many ways. These agencies depend greatly on the help of others in the community to keep their good works vibrant and growing.

With so many charities in need of help out there, how does one evaluate whether or not the charity is legitimate or worthwhile?

Melissa Ames, director of marketing and public relations at the Better Business Bureau of Columbiana, Mahoning and Trumbull counties, said that it’s important to do your homework and evaluate a charity on a case-by-case basis.

“When you are choosing a charity, you should check with the BBB, the secretary of state, and the Internal Revenue Service,” she said. “You should evaluate the solicitation and look at the source.

”If the appeal tugs at your heart strings, but has a short description, then that’s a red flag. The appeal should tell you about the organization’s programs, governance and their funding.”

Michelle Beauchene, director of development and public relations at the Warren Family Mission, said that if possible, donors should tour a charity they are considering.

“It’s good to see and find out what they are all about,” she said. “Also, you want to see what the money donated is used for and to take a tour to get a feel for what type of place the mission, organization or charity is all about. You want to see if it’s what the website says it is.

”We invite a lot of people to the Warren Family Mission to show them what are programs are about. We have an open-door policy,” she said.

Beauchene said that 100 percent of the donations to the Warren Family Mission are based on contributions from the community. The Warren Family Mission offers shelter, clothing and services to homeless men and women and also helps men and women who are struggling with addiction.

“We could not do what we do without our donors that provide the means to support our programs and outreach,” she said. “All our programs are free.”

Beauchene said that every donation that the Warren Family Mission receives stays local. She said that donors donate money, food, items, appliances and furniture.

Ames said there are other areas to examine cautiously before deciding to donate.

“Another red flag when looking for a charity is that when an organization tells you that your donation is tax deductible. In this case, we recommend that you follow up with the IRS to make sure that the organization is a 501(c)3.

”The IRS has a great page which lists information for charities and non-profits. When a charity is legitimate, they are registered with several organizations, such as the secretary of state and the IRS,” Ames said.

Ames said that legitimate organizations, charities or nonprofits send out their annual report about their organization’s programs and expenses. She said that legitimate organizations show you how much of your donation is going to make it to their program.

“For example, if you are going to purchase toys for children, the charity will state how much of your donation will make it to their organization at the end of the day. If the organization is not legitimate, they will skirt around these details.

”It’s also always important to watch out for organizations that have a similar name to a well-known charity,” Ames said.

The CreativeBridge Coalition, a music-based education program for children with special needs, was founded by two musicians from the Youngstown area, Dr. Dan Marshall and Bill Bodine. The coalition’s Rhythmic Arts Project music curriculum is taught at Fairhaven special needs school in Niles and at the Rich Center for Autism.

Bodine said that 90 percent of all the money that goes into the CreativeBridge Coalition ends up in the classroom in helping children with special needs.

“Our expenses are to pay the person who is teaching the CreativeBridge Coalition classes,” Bodine said. “It’s important when looking at a nonprofit organization or charity to find out what percentage of your funds go towards the people you want to help. You want to see if there is data to substantiate the claims of the foundation or the nonprofit.”

Bodine said that with the CreativeBridge Coalition, they provide an excellent service to children with autism and developmental disabilities.

“We are living in a time where a lot of people depend on 501(c)3 organizations,” Bodine said. “Every non-profit organization relies on the kindness of strangers and actively seeks funds from institutions, foundations and individuals as well.”

When you do choose a charity to contribute to, you can know that you are making a difference in someone’s life.

“When it comes to selecting a non-profit charity, organization or mission every individual has a compassion area in their heart for something,” Beauchene said. “When you donate to a mission, whether it’s a big or a small donation, it makes a difference in someone’s life.”