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If you want a poster child for why it’s important to research a charity before you give money, let me present Feed the Children.

Here’s how Daniel Borochoff, president of the American Institute of Philanthropy, summarized the situation when naming Feed the Children 2009′s “Most Outrageous Charity in America”:

From forged audits and alleged employee theft in the late ’90s to alleged burglary and board coup staging within the past year, no other major charity can match Feed the Children’s (FC) record of outrageous behavior over the past ten years. The madcap antics of Feed the Children and Larry Jones, its founder and president for 30 years, may be coming to an end. In August 2009, after months of turmoil at the charity, Mr. Jones agreed to give up control of FC in order to settle a lawsuit between FC’s longstanding board and a new board that he had attempted to install. Fascinating details about many alleged wrongdoings at this charity have been brought to light as a result of this lawsuit.

You can read more at AIP’s Web site.

And just to be crystal clear: Feed the Children is not the same charity as Save the Children, which receives an “A” grade from AIP as well as regular contributions from the Weston family.

We’re well into the biggest giving season of the year, and you owe it to yourself and legitimate, well-run charities to make sure your money is well spent. As attorney Ed Long of SmarterGivingGuy.com puts it, “Every dollar scam ‘charities’ take in is a dollar that could instead have gone to a strong charity doing valuable work with the funds entrusted to it.”

Long will send a free list of tips for avoiding charity scammers, that includes a bunch of helpful links and suggestions, if you sign up for his email group.

Be particularly wary of any organization that claims to collect money on behalf of veterans, police, firefighters or victims of any recent disaster. Scam artists exploit your strong emotions about these groups, hoping you’ll drop your guard and give without checking them out.

Instead, call your local police and fire departments yourself to find out the best way to give. To help disaster victims, give to the Red Cross. If you want to help veterans, AIP gives top marks to these groups:

Armed Services YMCA of the USA A–
Fisher House Foundation A+
Homes For Our Troops A
Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund A+
National Military Family Association A+
Operation Homefront – N.O. B+

For more information, read “How to tell a good charity from a bad one.”

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Liz -
Thanks for your post – and mentioning the Smarter Giving Guy tips.
It’s year-end giving season – that means it’s also year-end “charity” scam season. Tops on the tips list is to check out the organization on IRS Publication 78 (available online). If the organization isn’t there, it’s not a charity (note, churches and government agencies are exempted).
If just one person had checked Publication 78, National Foundation of America wouldn’t have taken in millions as a “charity” — when it wasn’t. They’re one of the winners of our Charity Skunk awards.