How to ensure your charitable donations fall into the right hands this year

MARQUETTE, Mich. (WLUC) - With the holidays and end of the year approaching, the window to give to charity this year is coming to a close.

But who should you be giving to?

"The best piece of advice I can give or try to emphasize is give to a local organization," says Amy Quinn, CEO of Grow and Lead: Community and Youth Development. ""If it's a local organization, most likely you know someone that either works for them, has been a client of theirs, or is on their board."

But don't always trust that local non-profits are good - do some research. Do they have an updated website or Facebook page?

Grow and Lead says one great way to do this research is to use Michigan's Licensing and Regulatory Affairs website, or LARA.

Look for a group's annual report. If it's been a few years since it's been updated, it may be a red flag.

"If you want to do a little bit of investigating on your own, you can do things like look up the form 990," Quinn.

A few pages in, you'll find schedule A.

"There's a schedule A, and on that schedule A in that area it asks if they have certain policies in place, it asks if the board members have written conflicts of interest, how do they enforce it," says Quinn.

You can also see if they're registered statewide or nationally, or if they're funded by United Way.

United Way works with 25 community groups, all with an overhead of 25 percent or below. The lower the overhead, the more money reaches the community.

"Some organizations I've looked at have 70, 80% overhead. And you want to avoid that. That's going to the CEO, or bonuses, or vacations or who knows what, but it's not going to your cause," says Andrew Rickauer, Executive Director of United Way of Marquette County.

Both Grow and Lead and the United Way also recommend using Guidestar.

It gives you access to those 990 forms and mission statements. And if they're not there, you might want to pick another organization.

But most importantly, make sure the charity you're picking aligns with your giving goals.

"Are they doing what you want to have happen? United Way of Marquette County gives back to the local community," says Rickauer. "If you don't want to give to the community and you want to give to a world wide organization, United Way of Marquette County is not your choice."

If you don't want to give money, you could always give food or other material items to non-profits in need.

"There's many different ways to give and get involved and these non-profits really appreciate everyone's help," says Quinn.