Check your charity

Published On: Dec 13 2012 03:24:59 PM EST

The holidays are often a perfect time for us to give some money to our favorite charities.

We like to do good deeds during the "giving" season, and it's not a bad time to rack up those tax write-offs. Before you write that check, or take out your credit card, you might want to do some checking on the charities you select.

Consumer Reports has come up with some quick, simple steps that can help everyone get the most of your money.

1. Verify the tax-exempt status of the charity. Confirm a group's tax-exempt status by going to irs.gov and searching for "exempt organizations select check."
2 .Give directly. If you're contacted by a professional fundraiser for a charity you want to support, give directly instead. Fundraisers often take 40 to 80 percent of the proceeds.
3. Check the privacy policies of the charity. Will they sell your contact info to other groups? You can ask them not to share your info, and you can also ask them to limit how many appeals they send you. Either way, be aware of their privacy policy and make sure you’re comfortable with what will happen after you make that donation.
4. Be on guard for soundalikes. Some low-rated charities choose names that resemble those of high-rated ones, more reliable groups.

Check with The Watchdogs

Those are some steps you can pretty take by yourself, but if you want more in-depth information there are three major charity watchdogs: Charity Navigator, CharityWatch and the BBB Wise Giving Alliance.

They rate charities on several criteria, such as how they spend their money, privacy policies, and more. However, Consumer Reports says they use somewhat different criteria and don't always agree, so check out a charity with all three groups.

Only CharityWatch requires a donation for full access, although it provides useful information without one. Also, the groups usually don't rate religious organizations, although you might find some listed, especially if they solicit money from the general public.

Regional BBBs are your best bet to learn more about local charities. They have evaluated about 10,000 local groups; the reports are available through the Wise Giving Alliance.

So, be careful and then be as generous as you can be!