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red donation kettle and 10 -dollar bill

Dropping some cash in the familiar red kettles is a common way of sharing holiday cheer, but for less familiar charities, K-State Research and Extension family finance specialist Elizabeth Kiss says some thoughtful consideration is in order - and it can be a great learning experience for children. | Download this photo.

In this season of giving, make smart choices

A little research can get more of your money to those you want to help

Dec. 21, 2017

MANHATTAN, Kan. — When the holiday season comes around each year, there is frequently a spirited uptick in charitable donations. It’s the time of year when we can share a bit more and do a few more good deeds. For many, the added benefit of a tax deduction in the New Year doesn’t hurt, either.

Charitable organizations, though, are no different than any other group of businesses or nonprofits: Some do a better job than others of putting your donation to good use. Sadly, there are even some who are, to put it bluntly, scammers. What follows are a few tips to help you avoid the swindlers, and help your gift last a little longer.

“The Salvation Army’s annual Red Kettle campaign, the holiday collection plate at your church, food banks, schools, colleges, universities and other local, regional or national charities — the end of year is a time when many of us give to charity,” said Elizabeth Kiss, K-State Research and Extension family finance specialist.

Her advice is to make your gift, above all else, a personal one.

Be “self”-ish — “What are you passionate about? Every community has needs, from home-energy assistance, to homelessness, hunger,” Kiss said. “Give to something important to you. If you love books and reading, donate to a library. If you love animals, give to your local animal shelter. It’s OK to make this about you as much as them.”

A teachable moment — Children love to receive gifts, and when it’s appropriate, this is a great introduction to charity and community service, Kiss said. “Involving children in decisions about charitable giving is an opportunity for them to look beyond their wish list and experience the joy of giving to others.”

No money? No problem! — “Giving isn’t always about money – the gift of time is also valuable to individuals and organizations,” Kiss said. A commitment to spend time helping your favorite nonprofit organization can be a good way to give. And you may realize some added benefits for yourself — things like more social interaction, more physical activity, and opportunities to learn a new skill or two.

For the next several days, when you reach for your wallet or pocketbook, here are a few tips from Kansas Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer, and Kansas Securities Commissioner John Wine. 

Trust, but verify — Resist any high-pressure appeals to give immediately. Make use of online resources like Kansas Charity Check and the Better Business Bureau’s Give.Org website to see if those individuals asking for your donation really are who they claim to be. 

Ask specific questions — It’s your money, so there’s no need to feel guilty about asking a few questions. Ask how donations are used, and what percentage of each dollar goes to things such as salaries and overhead.

Tax status — Not every charitable organization is tax exempt as a charity. Ask for documentation.

Support groups, not individuals — Writing checks to organizations, or making credit card donations to organizations, are the safest ways to go. Never give cash to, or write a check in the name of an individual.

Ask around — If an auxiliary group claims to be supporting local firefighters or sheriff’s deputies, ask around. Call your local fire department and verify before making a donation.

“A bit of caution dealing with organizations and causes you are unfamiliar with will go a long

Way toward making sure your contributions are directed to the right place,” Commissioner Selzer said. And if scammers aren’t collecting any money, they just might give up.

Several charity and nonprofit “watchdog” organizations offer more guidance and information:


Elizabeth Kiss, PhD

Written by

Randall Kowalik

At a glance

'Tis the season for giving charitably, and K-State Research and Extension family finance specialist Elizabeth Kiss urges givers to make wise choices and follow these tips for avoiding scams, making your gift last longer, and showing children how to add meaning to the holidays.

Notable quote

“Giving isn’t always about money – the gift of time is also valuable to individuals and organizations.”
- Elizabeth Kiss, K-State Research and Extension family finance specialist


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K‑State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the wellbeing of Kansans.
Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county extension offices, experiment fields, area extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K‑State campus in Manhattan.