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Friday, Jun 21 2013 11:01 PM

Choose charities well: Some give literally zero in cash aid to causes they promote

By The Bakersfield Californian

That voice of the other end of the phone sounds sincere enough, and the name of the organization certainly inspires empathy. But as a yearlong investigation by the Tampa Bay Times and The Center for Investigative Reporting has found, that charity trolling for your money could well be shamefully short-changing the causes it purports to help.

The news organizations identified almost 6,000 charities that pay for-profit companies to raise their donations. The 50 worst of them, the report finds, have paid their solicitors nearly $1 billion over the past 10 years -- money that donors undoubtedly assumed would be going directly to cancer research, disabled veterans and the like.

Five of them are in Southern California: Hope Cancer Fund, National Narcotic Officers Associations Coalition, Find the Children, Shiloh International Ministries and Association for Firefighters and Paramedics.

The inglorious 50 devote less than 4 percent of donations raised to direct cash aid, the report found. Some, like the West Covina-based Narcotic Officers group, gave exactly zero percent.

How does one differentiate the responsible charites from the dubious sound-alike groups? Ask specific questions: How long has the charity been around? Exactly where do our donations go? What percentage? Get familiar with charity-rating organizations like Charity Navigator and GuideStar USA. And read the report at cironline.org/americasworstcharities. It's got the full list of the 50 worst charities and more tips on how to root out the bad ones from legitimate ones that deserve our ongoing support.

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