Here's how to make sure your donation to charity will be well spent

Secretary of State's Charity Search website helps you verify registration and learn how much money goes to the cause.

When you donate money to charity, you assume the money you give will make a difference to a cause you believe in. But that's not always the case- especially during the holiday season.

Here's how to make sure you know how to tell if a charity really deserves your hard earned cash.

"When someone calls you out of the blue and asks you for money on behalf of charity xyz, our first recommendation is ask some follow up questions," said Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman.

Wyman and state Attorney General Bob Ferguson say when it comes to donating to charities, be generous, but beware.

"Beware of your email, your phone calls. Also, be careful of social media," Ferguson warned, explaining his office has seen an uptick in complaints related to social medial solicitations.

When it comes to unsolicited charity phone calls and mail, find out the name and address of the charity.

And Wyman urges, always ask questions when professional fundraisers call for donations.

"Are you being paid to raise money for this charity? The most important one is, how much of your dollar is actually going to the charity?"

The state's new fundraiser report shows 108 registered companies that get paid to solicit money on behalf of chairites. It's legal, and in many cases it's fine. Charities that need money often find paid fundraisers help bring in dollars they would never see. So the trade-off is worth it.

But there's another side of that coin.

"We have 11 fundraisers that gave over 80 percent of their money," said Wyman. "We have 35 fundraisers who gave less than 20% of your money to the actual charities."

"The worst example is a fundraiser that literally raised a few hundred thousand dollars and all of it was kept to them and they had a negative balance to the charities. The charity, essentially, kinda owed them money."

"We don't want to discourage folks from giving," stressed Ferguson. "Kim and I want to encourage that of course. Just make sure your money is going to the charity and the cause that you actually want."

Here's how to do that:

Go the Washington Secretary of State website.

Scroll down the right hand menu and find "Charities Search". On the charities page, skip the Log-In seciong and scroll down to the charity fundraiser search section thenenter the charity name.

You'll be able to find out whether the charity is legally registered as reguired by state law and what percentage of the money actually goes to charity services.

Also check the Charity Navigator website. There, you can check a charity's overall rating and see exactly where the money goes. Note, Charity Navigator is also a non-profit organization which solicits donations to support it's work.

Then, go to the Better Business Bureau's charity website which tracks complaints and other information about thousands of organizations that want you to give.

Never give under pressure- especially when you're in public places like grocery stores where you can't verify the information.

Many storefront solicitors will post copies of their Secrtary of State registraton - but remember, registration does not mean the charity is credible.

If you get a hard sell, or feel the solicitation is too aggressive, walk away. If you're on the phone, just hang up.

Attorney General Ferguson says if you feel you've been tricked by a charity scam, file a complaint so his office can investigate.

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