What's that charity doing with your money?

Doing the right thing and helping others usually makes people feel good. But how do you know the money that the money you're giving to charity is going to programs and not just salaries?

Viewer Jim let me know that he got mail from a charity called Adopt-a-platoon. He asked whether it's legitimate and effective. Let's check it out, as you should any charity.

Arizona does not require charities to register with the state, so you're pretty much on your own.

I start by looking at the charities website and for transparency.

Are the director's names listed and are the 990 financial tax forms available?

With Adopt-a-platoon, it's yes in both cases.

Then, I go to an online site to help me look at those 990 tax forms and see how much money goes to the folks you want to help versus charity expenses. And see how much money goes to the folks you want to help versus charity expenses.

CharityNavigator.org gives Adopt-a-platoon a 69 rating out of 100 and one star out of four. That's for the year 2014, the most recent that was listed.

At a different site, Charitywatch.org, they didn't give a rating. This site says that's because of a "continued presence of apparent reporting errors" that the charity "appears to be incorrectly reporting millions of dollars of fundraising expenses as program grants" and that they can't get answers from adopt-a-platoon.

So, I called the charity itself. They say they did report everything correctly and have their information independently audited. And they say they are being transparent and accountable with these charity sites and giving them the information they require.

As I said, the 990 tax form is where you'll find financial information.

To see how donations are spent, follow this advice: 

Go to page 10. It's called the statement of functional expenses, find Line 25 (total functional expenses). Divide column B (program services) by column A (total expenses), then multiply by 100. The resulting figure is the percentage that organization is spending directly on their programs and services. 

Also, check out the "statement of program service accomplishments" for more on program expenses.

Good Luck!

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