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For businesses, choosing right charity can be mutually beneficial

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During the holidays, corporate giving can be essential to organizations and individuals who are in need, especially seniors and other at-risk groups during this time of year. Businesses, both large and small, use their resources to support those who may be less fortunate. This is not only beneficial to those receiving the help, but also can strengthen the dynamic internally in a business.

Typically businesses choose a charity to align with because they are drawn to a particular cause, group or mission. Take for instance San Diego Gas & Electric, which recently announced it would give more than $600,000 in charitable donations to 60 nonprofit organizations in San Diego and Orange counties. Senior Community Centers was fortunate to be one among the chosen organizations. SDG&E's financial support will continue to allow us to support the low-income senior population through our programs and services that include housing and congregate dining sites.

On average, charities receive 41 percent of their annual contributions in the last few weeks of the year, according to the Charity Navigator website. But what happens when you don’t have a charity in mind, or you are new to making financial donations on behalf of your business? Here are six quick tips to help you choose a legitimate organization and avoid being scammed:

1. Only give to a charity you know.

2. Research an organization before you donate. There are a variety of online resources that provide free access to comprehensive reports about nonprofit organizations. Start with a visit to California Attorney General's Registry of Charitable Trusts (oag.ca.gov/charities), the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance (give.org), GuideStar (guidestar.com) and Charity Navigator (charitynavigator.org). Go to the organization’s website and really get a good understanding of what the charity does and who benefits from your donation.

3. Ask questions. Real charities are able to tell you how they use their donations and what portion of your contribution will go directly to the group they are trying to help. Ideally, 85 cents of every dollar raised should go directly to programs and services of the charitable organization, with the minimal amount remaining to underwrite administrative salaries and operational expenses. Also, ask them for a 990 tax form. If they cannot give you this information, don’t give them your money.

4. Do not send to a P.O. Box. Make sure the organization has an actual street address, where you can go and see the charity in action at anytime.

5. Ask for a tour. Or even better just show up unannounced. A reputable charity would be delighted to give you a tour on the spot.

6. There should be no hard sell. Organizations don’t need money “today.” If they cannot give you an answer for what the donation is to be used for then walk away.

Here at Senior Community Centers, we provide all the details a donor may want to know about our organization on our website. There you can refer to our last four annual reports to see exactly where your dollars will be spent, and we encourage you to come “kick the tires” and get to know our organization. We offer tours five days a week and will walk you through several of our locations, including our nationally recognized Gary and Mary West Senior Wellness Center. Everything is transparent, and that is exactly what you want in your charity.

Corporate sponsorship along with volunteerism can boost employee morale and is mutually beneficial for both the charity and the participating business. When you donate this holiday season, as a business or as an individual, make certain to follow these quick tips to ensure your charity of choice is fiscally and socially responsible.

Downey is the president and CEO of Senior Community Centers, a nonprofit agency dedicated to keeping San Diego seniors healthy and independent. Learn more at servingseniors.org.

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