Thursday, February 11, 2016

Give to Your Hearts Content

It’s that time of the year again: a combination of New Year’s resolutions and the start of tax time has many of us looking for a place to donate money.  It can be difficult to figure out which charity is most deserving of your money and how to make your charitable donations work best for your financial situation.

You might have a favorite charity (we have some, we'll tell you more about them below), like a local group or someone with whom you’ve worked for years.  If not, finding the right charity can be a difficult task, both because unethical individuals may want to exploit the best intentions of others and because running a nonprofit organization is a difficult task, making many well-intentioned charities ineffective at fulfilling their mission.

Check out the charity with an objective watchdog group
One of the difficulties with charitable giving is understanding where your money goes.  In recent memory, there might be no better example of the confusion surrounding a charity than Invisible Children, the organization behind Kony 2012.  It soared into the public consciousness a few years ago behind a viral marketing campaign, followed by a very public arrest of one of its central figures after an alleged act of public indecency.

In the wake of his arrest, various reports accused the organization of diverting attention from larger human rights abuses in the region and questioning the financial background of the organization.  It’s unclear, even this far removed, what happened with Invisible Children, and whether the public backlash was warranted, but various watchdog groups certainly paint the charity in a positive light.

That’s why the best way to determine whether a charity is a good organization and worthy of your donation is to check with the three biggest charity watchdog organizations:  Charity Navigator (, Charity Watch (, and the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance (, all of which are also endorsed by Consumer Reports.

Verify each charity’s tax-exempt status
Never assume an organization has tax-exempt status, even if it might seem like it does or should.  For example, some universities offer tax-exempt donations for their general scholarship funds and other donations, but giving to specific departments or organizations, such as the debate team or theatre department, is not tax-exempt.  Even if your donation was tax-exempt last year, even if someone involved in the organization tells you that they’re tax-exempt, even if you’re 99% sure the organization is tax-exempt, check with the IRS website at

Always give money directly
One way that scammers will use the goodwill of charities for their own benefit is to call people and ask for donations over the phone.  Don’t assume that someone who calls you actually works for the organization.  Instead, finish your conversation and then donate directly to the organization.  Even legitimate fundraisers often take 40 percent of the proceeds, keeping your money from the people you really want to help.

Donating directly also gives you more control over the paperwork, ensuring you get all the documents you need for a tax deduction. You can also confirm the quality of the organization and that the organization is tax-exempt.

Make sure to request privacy
Once you’ve given money to a charity, it’s easy to end up on countless lists with people calling constantly from other charities.  If you’ve ever given money to a political campaign, you’ve probably already experienced this.  Some of our members report that they’ve received correspondence from political parties for decades, even after switching political parties.  So be careful! Make sure you care enough about the charity that it won’t bother you to have your dinner interrupted or get junk mail.

The Charities We Love at First City Credit Union
In light of all this, it's always good to do your research on a charity.  That being said, these are charities that First City has been involved in over the years.  Check them out if you don't already have a favorite, they do help with some worthy causes.

  • The Children's Miracle Network has been involved in collecting funds to serve critically ill children regardless of need across the country.  They guide resources to local children's hospitals.  
  • Here in L.A. County, CMN partners with Children's Hospital Los Angeles, for whom we have raised thousands of dollars to help.  You can visit them on Facebook to see what they've been up to here.  
  • First City was first started by a group of L.A. County Sheriff's Deputies back in 1937, and we've been involved in helping their charities over the years.  In particular, 
    • The LA. County Sheriff's Youth Foundation's 999 for Kids program raises money to purchase special items and services for these children, including sport wheelchairs, computers, special education classes, medically oriented toys and games. The funds send children to summer camps for the deaf, blind, and those with other medical issues who would not otherwise have such positive experiences. It was established with the support of another one of First City's employer groups, the L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services.
    • Fight for Life is an event done by the LASD in partnership with the L.A. Police Department to benefit City of Hope.  City of Hope is dedicated to making a difference in the lives of people with cancer, diabetes and other serious illnesses.
    • LASD Fun in the Sun Chili Cook-off benefits the Special Olympics, who seeks to transform the lives of those with intellectual disabilities through the physical activity of sport. 
These are some of the charities we've been involved in on a continuous basis over the course of our history.  Whether you help any of the same ones we do (and if you do, thank you!), we hope you'll find a good one to give your time and/or money to.