There are only a couple of weeks left in this holiday season and for all of the consuming and buying that’s going on, there’s also the important tradition of giving. December is the time of year that charitable giving reaches its peak — of the billions of dollars donated annually, 12% happens during the last three days of the year.1 In fact, Dec. 31 is the single biggest day for online donations.2 There are thousands of groups you could donate to, but sadly, there are some that are more prone to scamming you out of your money than doing any real good. Fortunately, there are a few easy ways to help determine who’s naughty and nice — and make sure your money is going to the right place.

Beware of sound-alike names.

As an example, there are two groups that focus on helping children — the Children’s Charity Fund and the Children’s Defense Fund. They sound alike, but there is a big difference in their credibility — according to Charity Navigator, an organization that investigates and reviews charities, Children’s Charity Fund has a rating of zero stars while Children’s Defense Fund has a rating of four stars.

The same warning applies to scammer emails. You might receive a message asking for a donation that includes a web address that’s just one or two letters away from a real charity’s name — for example, instead of

Know who’s benefiting.

Some charities spend significantly more on salaries and fundraising events than they actually spend on their intended recipients. As a rule of thumb, at least 75% of the money an organization brings in should make it to their programs and services. Before you write a check or donate online, always look for the charity’s mission statement as well as their financial statement on their website. If you can’t find any financial information, that’s a big red flag and you should think twice before donating.

Use charity reviewers.

Third-party organizations can be helpful when it comes to evaluating charities. One of the most-respected is Charity Navigator — they rate almost 8,000 of the largest charities in the U.S. and provide information on those charities’ ratings, budgets, tax-exempt status, and IRS forms. They’ve placed almost 200 charities on their warning list and they always have a top ten list of the most over-paid charities in the nation. You can visit their website at

Another resource is your city’s Better Business Bureau (BBB). Each year, the BBB provides its communities with tools that tie back to its Wise Giving Alliance and are designed to protect consumers. You can find more information about the BBB’s charity reviews at

Charitable giving is an important and rewarding part of the season, so don’t get swindled by any Scrooges in disguise — do your due diligence and make sure your money goes where it’s most-deserved!


1Charity Navigator. (2014). Online Giving Statistics. Retrieved December 1, 2016, from
2MobileCause. (2016, January 21). Mobile Engagement Works. Retrieved December 1, 2016, from
This report contains references and links to Charity Navigator and, websites not owned or operated by Financial Engines. Financial Engines provides this resource solely as a convenience. The reference and appearance of the Charity Navigator or websites do not imply endorsement by Financial Engines, nor is Financial Engines responsible for its content. While Financial Engines believes the information is accurate and reliable, we are not responsible for its accuracy.