Americans are the most generous people in the world giving an eye popping 310 billion dollars to charities last year. But if you like to donate, it pays to be sure your money is being used wisely.

According to the New York Attorney General's office, of charities that used telemarketers to fundraise, 62 cents of every dollar donated were kept by those telemarketers. In half of the fundraising campaigns run by telemarketers, the charities retained less than 30 percent of the funds raised. That's not a good return on investment.

And, it's not just pricey fundraising that puts your dollars at risk. Bloated executive salaries, mushy missions and sound-alike charity names can all result in a waste of your charity dollars.

So, be sure to check out your charity before you donate. One great resource is CharityNavigator.org. This website does the heavy lifting for you, vetting many players. If your favorite charity is not on the site, ask basic questions. Is the organization a legitimate non for profit? If the entity doesn't have that designation, you can't deduct contributions on your taxes. Avoid any charity using telemarketers.

Read the mission statement. You should look for organizations that have concrete goals. Charities should also tell you how much of each dollar they receive is going to their cause. Watch for high operating expenses.

Finally, if you have a specific charity you want to give to, be sure to get the name exactly right before you stroke a check. Scammers try to take advantage of your goodwill by promoting ventures whose names sound legit or mimic those of established charities.

Use your charity dollars wisely. Remember, the more care you give in dispensing your money, the more causes you can help.

 

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Gerri Willis is the host of "The Willis Report" (6 & 9PM/ET), a primetime program that covers the leading financial and political stories of the day and their impact on consumers. Click here to see more from Gerri Willis.