It's important to avoid scams of all kinds at this time of year, and unfortunately some of them come disguised as “charities.” So we've got some handy tips about how to spot the bad apples. But first, here are some great ways to give to the good ones -- those that reflect your values and are meaningful to you and others. A downloadable version of our Giving Guide is available here. Please distribute this information in your own newsletters and emails, post it on Facebook and Tweet it! You can use this link: bit.ly/CalNonprofitsGivingGuide

Say "thank you" to a nonprofit that's helped you in the past.

Maybe you worked at a nonprofit when you were young where you gained skills andconfidence (and a good feature on your resume). Or maybe the Boys & Girls Club or th LGBT Center was an important haven for you. Consider giving one day's pay (your annual salary divided by 228 days) to that nonprofit. Pay it forward for someone else.

Consider the nonprofits you already know and appreciate.

For example,where do you volunteer or serve on the board? You can give your gift "in honor of" a staff member or fellow volunteer whose work you appreciate. Think about which nonprofits help you, your family members, and your neighbors. Perhaps your niece gets help from a disabilities nonprofit, your parent belongs to a senior center, or you enjoy a wilderness area, a museum, public radio, or an online encyclopedia.

Use social media to ask your personal network for recommendations.

For example, ask on your Facebook page for recommendations from veterans about which veterans assistance organizations they respect.

If you are thinking about giving to others less fortunate than you -- as many of us do during the holiday season -- remember to give to the nonprofits that help others and to those that speak out for them.

With a new administration in Washington, consider not only giving to a food pantry, but to a civil rights law center, not only to a homeless shelter but to a local hunger coalition.

Give locally…but also give to communities that lack the resources than yours.

If you give to a symphony orchestra in Los Angeles, consider also giving to an orchestra in the Central Valley. If you give to a wilderness preservation area, consider also giving to an anti-toxics group in a black or Latino community. If you donate to your alma mater, make a matching donation to a university that may have fewer donors, perhaps a community college. If you aren’t sure where to give, make your donation to a local community foundation or United Way.

Now for our help with those bad apples:

• Before giving to an organization you don’t know — even a famous one — do a little online research. Type the organization’s name into Google along with a word such as “problem” or “wrong” to see if there are accusations against the charity, or criticisms of its work. For example, an international nonprofit might have good finances, but a web search reveals that the people in the overseas nation believe the nonprofit is harming local small businesses. (Of course you will have to decide whether any accusations are legitimate and whether or not you agree with any criticisms). You can review the charity's financial reports -- typically available free at www.guidestar.org (not all charities have to provide these reports, called Federal Form 990). Members of the public -- such as volunteers and beneficiaries -- can also write reviews of charities on Yelp and GreatNonprofits.org

• Don't click on links in email from nonprofits when you want to give -- especially well-known nonprofits. Instead, type their name directly into your browser. Scammers send emails with links that go to "look-alike" pages that appear to be legitimate but actually feed the pockets of the scammers.

• Don't give your credit card number over the phone or online to a nonprofit you don't know directly.

• If you think you've been scammed, give a holiday gift to thousands of other well-meaning people by reporting the scammer to the California Attorney General.

Remember: California's nonprofits are "hidden in plain sight." We're not only the homeless shelter or food bank. We're your church, the Campfire Girls, Downton Abbey, the local chorus. We are all breathing cleaner air and our children's toys are safer thanks to California's nonprofit environmental and consumer advocates. Those of us who are people of color, women, people with disabilities and LGBT benefit every day from what civil rights nonprofits have done for us.

As nonprofits, we rest in the arms of our communities and supporters.

Thank you for being there with us.

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