Check Before You Donate by Text, or Write That Check

The holidays, and now Hurricane Sandy: the appeals are coming in from all over. Here's a free, quick and easy way to be sure your donations will be put to good use.

The first holiday solicitations arrived around Columbus Day. A package with holiday wrapping paper, some thematic greeting cards, and (Oh, goody!) still more personalized address labels.

Most of these mailings were not inexpensive. Had donated to some of these causes in the past, but several came in my maiden name-which I have not used in 18 years. That I received them at all can only be attributed to my having the same address, and mail carrier-for that long.

Pricey, or repeated unsolicited mailings always make me wonder about the overall value of the organization itself (like how much service I'll really get from an insurance company that every week spends money to send me something telling me how much money I'll save by switching...!) or in this case, how wisely, how effectively does a charity utilize donor funds.

Need and giving are hugely emotional issues that touch our core. Under 'normal' circumstances  the next 6 weeks  is high season for giving-and asking. But now we on the east coast have come to know Hurricane Sandy.

In the days and weeks to come, chances are we will be asked, and perhaps motivated and able to make a charitable donation or two.  We all want to be sure our donation will be used properly and efficiently, so before you text a donation in, or send a check, here are two quick and easy ways to give with your head, as well as your hearts.

To get an overall, independent read on different charities, try Charity Navigator . They acknowledge charities offer different services and programs, which leads to inherently different cost structures.

They break over 10,000  charities into classifications and rate them on their efficiency, in their classification. Their top ten lists feature the effective, as well as the overpaid, and the broke; eye-opening and interesting reading, to say the least.

Just as Better Business Bureau legitimizes companies, they also legitimize charities. The process is the same: charities that want to be BBB certified need to apply and provide vital info like contact info, their history, size, structure as well as a financial statement.

BBB will tell you if the charity meets their 20 standards for accountability, and if their info is vetted, a Wise Giving Alliance report is issued, good for 2 years. Check them out here .

Best for providing a snapshot of , and credibility for a particular organization. Because charities have to apply, it is unlikely any less than stellar ones would. Seeing your favorite here is a positive, but not being on the list isn't necessarily a negative.

Both sites are very useful , and for those who are really interested-The Chronicles of Philanthropy is a great source of info for non-profits www.philanthropy.com.

In the wake of  Hurricane Sandy, and the harsh realization we were just a few towns away from total destruction, I keep coming back to this quote, rather incongruously from Dr. Seuss:

 "Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not."   

Marie Graham is an Interior Decorator, a Home Stager, and owner of The Refreshed Home. Please watch for an upcoming announcement about Will Work for Food, a local fund-raising event for Hurricane Sandy Relief, via the American Red Cross. 

Details will be confirmed shortly, but this limited time event will have a pre-determined structure...participating professionals/small biz owners will waive their fee in the course of their normal business activities-in exchange for the customer making an immediate and direct contribution to the American Red Cross. 

Help is needed to organize and execute, if you'd like to participate, please contact Marie directly at 914.607.2895 or marie@therefreshedhome.com, ASAP, but no later than 9 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 6, so it can be organized and promoted.

Anyone who is paid for their time/service can participate: We've started with local Home Stagers, but personal trainers, creative and IT pros, mechanics, waitresses and bartenders pooling their tips, Girl Scouts who babysit, even attorneys and accountants can participate.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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