Just as retail businesses count on the holiday shopping season to boost their bottom lines, charities also count on the giving spirit to sustain their organizations through the “lean” months. Last year, it was estimated that Americans donated over $287 billion to charities. Unfortunately, there are some scammers who try to get in on this action and siphon off donations from legitimate charities. In fact, the FTC recently shut down four bogus charities who all purported to be helping cancer patients. How low can you go? If you consistently donate to an organization that you’re familiar with, then keep it up. But what if you want to spread around your charity? Here’s some smart ways to donate:

Don’t Give on Impulse

Have you ever been solicited by someone knocking on your door asking for support for a charity? That is a risky proposition on many levels. You certainly don’t want to invite them into your home or give up any private information like your email or credit card numbers. If you feel the urge to give, then ask the person for information about the charity and then do your own research.

Don’t Respond to Pressure

There is no rush for a donation. A legitimate charity does have tactics to make a pitch appeal but they shouldn’t ever put pressure on you to give on a deadline. Even if they are 100% legit, you still shouldn’t feel compelled to give just because they’ve tugged at your heart strings. Again, take the time to research and see how they might spend your hard-earned donation.

Don’t Fall for Sound-alike Charities

There is a long list of charity organizations and that is a list that grows every season. Sometimes, the questionable groups will try to glom onto the reputable ones by creating a sound-alike name. It certainly helps if you’ve heard about a charity but it should be the same charity you heard from and not a copycat.

Don’t Fall for Gifts

Just because an organization sent you free address labels or a calendar doesn’t mean you have to “pay” for them in the form of a donation. After all, you didn’t request those “free gifts.” Of course, there is nothing wrong with paying for those items through a donation but do that because you were going to contribute anyway not because you “owe” them.

Don’t Wire Money

Any charity that asks for an immediate wire donation might be up to no good. The same can be said for an organization that offers to provide an overnight delivery service. This goes back to the idea of “rushing.” There should never be a rush to give.

The safest and most effective way to give to a charity is to give directly. Seek out the organization you want to support and use their website to make a donation or obtain their address and send directly. Make sure your donations do some good.