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Business of Giving: Nonprofits Not Exempt from Madoff


Last day to make a tax-deductible contribution for 2008.

It's December 31st, and 2008 is finally drawing to a close. I, for one, am ready to raise a glass to its passing.

I imagine the name Bernard L. Madoff is familiar to all Minyans. You know - the guy who defrauded investors, including many nonprofits, of billions of dollars? Well, his greed is turning what was already a challenging fundraising environment into one that's truly do-or-die.

My own organization will be significantly impacted by the closure of a foundation that donated more than $500,000 per year to fund innovative programs. Other charities, such as the JEHT Foundation, have closed up shop altogether. Many more are now staring slack-jawed at balance sheets and wondering, "What can we do now?"

There's only one thing they can do: Encourage people like you to give. Most nonprofits' assets are tied to the market and are reliant on dwindling corporate donations. The Madoff scandal hit many of us like a sucker punch, and we really need some help getting up off the mat.

Today's the last day you can make a tax-deductible charitable contribution that counts for 2008 - and boy, do the charities need it.

If you have a charity you support regularly, cut it another check today. If you don't have a giving plan, think about what's important to you. Do you prefer to keep your donor dollars in your own community? Then give to a church or community center. Does the situation in Zimbabwe -- where cholera is an epidemic and millions are hungry -- motivate you to help? Then give to a humanitarian cause.

If you need help finding a charity that will make the best use of your dollars, check out This is a great nonprofit organization whose sole purpose is to protect and respect donor dollars. Since its inception in 2001, Charity Navigator's analysts have examined tens of thousands of financial documents from non-profit groups.

Nonprofits are required by the IRS to document where each dollar came from and how it was spent. Charity Navigator will inform you of the breakdown among program expenses, and administrative and fundraising fees. You can also see total revenue, assets and salaries of key employees. Charities receive a rating from 0 to 4 stars. (I'll take a moment here to boast that my organization, The Children's Aid Society is a four-star charity.) With this level of regulation and accountability, you can be confident that your money is being well spent.

I ask you to not only donate today, but to donate throughout 2009 and beyond. Donate generously and get involved personally. Because once you've invested your dollars, as well as your wisdom and experience, to a cause, you can truly make change happen. And that's a win-win for everyone.

Now, bring on 2009!
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