Wednesday, September 17, 2014




Holiday season brings increase in charitable giving

By ALLISON MILES
Nov. 30, 2013 at 5:30 a.m.
Updated Dec. 1, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.

Scrambling early in the morning to assemble their Christmas trees before the mall officially opens, members of Hospice of South Texas work in teams to assemble and decorate the special trees for its Gift of Light campaign.

Due donation diligence

The Better Business Bureau offers advice for avoiding charity scams this holiday season. Tips include:

Research the Charity in Advance.

Before making a contribution, visit give.org to view a detailed report about the organization.

Ask questions.

Don't hesitate to request written information that describes the charity's programs, reputation, privacy policy and financial standing. If a charity is reluctant to answer such questions, that should be a red flag.

Avoid giving cash.

Cash donations are difficult to track, making it harder for consumers to get tax deductions and easier for scammers to go unnoticed. It is best to use a credit or debit card, which offers protection in case a problem arises. If you must write a check, make it out to the charitable organization, not to the person collecting the donation.

Confirm text code numbers.

If you plan to donate by text message, confirm the text code number directly with the charity. Keep in mind that text message donations typically are not immediate. The donation may not show up on your bill for 30 to 90 days.

Watch out for high-pressure solicitations.

Be wary of appeals that are long on emotion but short on describing what the charity will actually do to meet its organizational goals.

Protect your personal information.

Never give your credit card number or other personal information in response to an unexpected telephone call, email or personal message on your social media profile from someone that is soliciting a donation.

Find out about tax deductibility in advance.

For a donation to be tax deductible, the charity must be tax exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Visit the IRS Exempt Organizations Select Check Tool to see if the organization is eligible to receive contributions that are deductible as charitable gifts.

Source: Better Business Bureau news release

While many Crossroads families spent time this week digging out decorations, organizing ornaments and preparing for the holiday season to come, Hospice of South Texas did some decorating of its own.

The nonprofit agency Tuesday ventured out to the Victoria Mall, where it set up the ribbon-adorned Christmas trees that serve as the main hub for the annual Gift of Light campaign.

Through the fundraiser, those who donate $10 get a white paper dove in honor - or in memory - of a loved one, said Hilary Lucas, the group's advancement director. That dove then gets a special place on the tree.

At a time of year when people busy themselves seeking those just-right gifts for family and friends, it's also a time many make charitable donations.

And while such contributions can make a difference to both the receiving agency and the person donating, there are things to consider when it comes to choosing the cause and getting things squared away.

Greg Hermes, a certified public accountant with Keller and Associates, said he receives many calls this time of year from clients planning for tax season. People often have questions regarding what they can - and can't - deduct once April rolls around.

Donations to qualified charities, which include places such as churches and mosques, nonprofit schools and hospitals, the Salvation Army and others, are tax-deductible, he noted.

Meanwhile, contributions to help pay for a person's medical expenses, to homeowners associations, political campaigns and others don't qualify.

Not everyone considers donations because of tax reasons, said Hermes, who is also a certified financial planner. Oftentimes, it's out of the goodness of their hearts or a mixture of both.

Regardless, it's always nice when a donation not only helps a nonprofit but also brings a tax break for the person who donated.

"It's kind of a win-win for everybody," he said.

Hermes said he recommends people go online and search the Internal Revenue Service's charitable contribution guidelines. Public accountants and financial advisers can also offer help.

"It's that old adage," he said. "'If you don't know how to put something together, look at the instructions.'"

Tracy Bracy, regional director for the Better Business Bureau, encouraged people to check a charity out before making a donation.

A bit of research beforehand into the organization's reputation, financial standing and more can help ensure a person's money is going to a reputable cause.

Ginny Stafford, CEO with Mid-Coast Family Services, offered another bit of advice.

She said she prefers to give money to local organizations. And when a person goes that route, he or she can drop in and get a lay of the land for themselves.

"Even though they might not see every inch of the shelter or facility, they can get a good snapshot," she said, noting how a charity receives the visitor can be telling, too.

Stafford said Mid-Coast also sees an increase in giving around the holiday season, and it all makes a difference. The $5,000 or so that comes in pays for two months of electrical bills at the shelter, for instance.

"Every hundred, five or dollar we get, we make sure it goes to where the donor wants it to go," she said. "And every bit helps."

Back with Hospice of South Texas, Lucas said she has high hopes for this year's Gift of Light campaign.

The fundraiser, which runs through December, brings in an average $25,000 per year, she said, and that money goes toward indigent care. The organization never turns anyone away, she noted, regardless of his or her ability to pay.

Still other donations - the hospice receives 10 to 15 percent of its annual gifts throughout the holiday season - go toward a capital campaign for the agency's new up-and-coming facility and other expenses the agency encounters through the year.

Everyone who donates receives a thank-you note, Lucas said, and documentation for their records.

All in all, she said, those Christmastime contributions mean a lot to those that receive them.

"They make a real difference," Lucas said.

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