Tuesday, December 3, 2013
Last call for Toys-for-Tots! Gifts must be collected no later than Thursday, December 5th for distribution to needy children in our communities. We thank those who have already donated.
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The spirit of the season leads many to consider charitable giving as part of their Christmas goodwill. If you don't already have one in mind, where do you start?
Charities exist for every conceivable situation. Whether your heart is moved by a sick child, returning war veteran, or homeless puppy, there is a group that shares your vision.
There are societies that fund research to battle diseases, support groups for those afflicted by them, and grief resources for families of those that have succumbed to them.
Charities that aid disaster victims, the impoverished, the endangered, the polluted, the you-name-it.
Choosing a cause is the easy part. Your heart and circumstances guide you. Selecting between all of the groups promoting the same cause - not so simple.
Decide in advance who you want to support before being asked. Learn about a charity and how it works. Groups that want to lower teenage pregnancy rates may teach sex education, promote abstinence, offer programs to build a girl's self-esteem, or hand out contraceptive devices. Fighting hunger can involve food handouts or teaching how to plant a garden. Different ways to tackle the same problem. Which do you deem most effective? Which embraces your core beliefs?
A legitimate charity should have a live person to answer some basic questions. Ask about their short-term and long-term goals. What percentage of your dollar goes towards the actual services vs. administrative or fundraising costs? Request a financial statement.
Avoid those that call, send heart-wrenching letters with photos, and door-to-door solicitors. Even if they represent a charity on your giving list. Money raised through a fund-raising appeal doesn't go directly to the cause. Campaign overhead takes the first bite out of it. You're not always talking to a volunteer. For-profit fundraisers who call on behalf of charities keep anywhere from 25 to 95 cents of every dollar they collect.
Confirm that the charity is the one you believe it to be. Groups adopt a name similar to a well-respected organization in order to confuse donors. Police associations may be based in an outlying area, your local officers may not benefit.
Ask if your gift is tax-deductible. Not all nonprofit organizations are charities, donations are not always deductible at tax time.
Volunteering is an excellent way to learn how well-run a charity is before donating. Nothing beats hands-on experience to determine a group's effectiveness.
Charity watchdog American Institute of Philanthropy (AIP) recommends supporting a charity that spends at least 60% of your donation on the endeavor itself. But this can be misleading. A new start-up may have higher expenses. One with a very low expense ratio may be reporting a mail solicitation as education expense rather than marketing.
And while I shouldn't have to warn you about this... never give personal information to anyone who initiates the communication; whether it be over the phone, through the mail or in person.
Websites such as CharityNavigator.org and Guidestar.org do the legwork for you. They offer ratings on thousands of legitimate charities. Each rates different criteria so it's worth your time to visit both.
Don't be taken during this season of giving.
Gifts You Never Thought Of
All I want for Christmas is.... No, not my two front teeth. But it was the most appropriate holiday song opening to complement this article.
Tablets are the hot item on this season's shopping list. Where do you start to select the right one for your favorite techie?
Consumer Reports (CR) gives honest advice, providing unbiased ratings and product reviews. Since my research budget doesn't allow me to test them all, I will defer to their findings.
CR suggests to first consider priorities before shopping for a tablet. If price and portability are most important, consider the Samsung Galaxy Tab with Wi-Fi. Those who need the most apps should go with an iPad.
Other factors to consider are the operating system and whether they have built-in ports. Are they easy to use? How clear is the display? What's the battery life? Screen size, touch response and weight should factor into your decision.
There's still a demand for GPS devices, despite the popularity of using your smartphone for directions. Choose a model based on how easily you can input destinations and which give the most helpful directions. Most allow you to choose from a variety of routes: whether it be the quickest, shortest, most scenic, without tolls, or a combination thereof. Secondary features may include MP3 playback and traffic services.
Too busy to check email notifications on your phone? Perhaps you need a smartwatch! The gadget is still young with a lot of bugs to work out. Setup can be difficult, small screen size makes them hard to read.
But don't overlook their promise just yet. Going beyond message notifications, many serve as fitness trackers as well. They'll track steps, calories, heart rate and more. They sync wirelessly via Bluetooth with iOS devices and Android smartphones. These features make the smartwatch a pretty thoughtful gift, whether or not the messaging functions are yet refined.
Hunters can blend in better with their surroundings thanks to Cabela's ColorPhase technology. The camouflage gear appears green when it's warm outdoors and changes to brown when the temperature drops.
Home automation is hot this year, too. Philips' Hue Connected Bulb lets you change the color of your lightbulbs and control them from your phones. What did you say? Why would I ever need to change a lightbulb color over the Internet? Because you can. And that's enough for a lot of techies.
While you're online, why not check your refrigerator's energy-saving performance, your food inventory and their expiration dates, find a recipe, leave a memo, and check the weather? You can with LG's SmartThinQ refrigerator. Samsung makes a similar model but it doesn't interact with a smartphone.
Guitar out of tune? You can be the life of the party within five seconds using the Tronical Tune. It's the first "affordable" guitar self-tuner. It installs without drilling, soldering or wiring, using custom algorithms to drive six small motors.
But don't leave the party without using the BACtrack Mobile. The device connects to an iPhone to monitor blood alcohol levels. Know when to quit drinking and stay off the road.
The only limit to gift giving is our imagination.
Tip of the Week
Pay extra attention when shopping online. Bogus websites are selling knockoffs at name brand prices, using the look and feel of the designer's site as well as authentic logos to fool consumers.
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