NORTH TEXAS (CBS 11 NEWS) – Statistics show that Americans are more likely to donate to a good cause during the holidays, and charities depend on that generosity. But when donating to non-profit organizations there is a big difference as to where your money goes and how it is spent.

CBS 11 News spent weeks researching the issue and discovered in many cases some “causes” may only be receiving pennies on the dollar.

Stockings are hung, trees are decorated, bells are ringing, and the holidays may have you in the giving mood.

“There are a lot of great charities out there, but there are also some scoundrels and thieves,” explained Ken Berger, the CEO and president of Charity Navigator. Berger heads the national watchdog group that tracks and rates non-profit organizations.

During a satellite interview Berger was asked why non-profit watchdogs groups are needed. “It’s [charitable organizations] estimated to be as much as $2 trillion of the American economy. That’s one out of every 10 jobs,” he said.

On the Charity Navigator website you can find out how a charity spends its donations and how much actually goes to the mission it supports.

Imagine, for example, you have $100 to give. According to Charity Navigator: The U.S. Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots Foundation would put $97 of that amount towards their program. The American Red Cross would apply $92 to their cause.

Comparatively, according to Berger and his group, the American Cancer Society would use just $70 of your donation for its main mission and the March of Dimes would use just $64.

Berger said there are other organizations contributing even less. According to Charity Navigator, the National Police Defense Foundation only passes along $17 of every $100 it receives to officers. The National Vietnam Veterans Foundation gives a mere $9 of every $100 to former service people.

Berger said, “It was a big surprise to us — how much poor performance we found among organizations that help police, firefighters, and veterans.”

The founder of the National Police Defense Foundation said the organization doesn’t have the personnel to personally solicit donations, so it hires “professional fundraisers.” Those fundraising professional are paid 75-percent of donations generated.

>>Click Here to read the full NPDF response<<

Berger said a charity’s biggest mistake is depending on telemarketers, who sometimes pocket your entire donation. “Our advice is to hang up the phone and never give over the phone.”

American Red Cross spokesperson Anita Foster is proud to see her organization ranked highly in efficiency, but she also explained that there would always be bills to pay. “There’s overhead,” she said. “There’s a cost of doing business. We have to have the lights on in the building. We have to put gas in our vehicles.”

The U.S. government also requires that non-profits disclose their finances, which means you can do your own research. ‘It’s perfectly okay to make a decision based on where your heart lies,” Foster said adding, “but also make sure it is a responsible non-profit that will use your money wisely.”

>>Click here to see how Charity Navigator has your favorite charity performing<<

The three other charities mentioned in the story also sent responses.

>>Click here to read the full American Cancer Society response<<
>>Click here to read the full Toys for Tots response<<
>>Click here to read the full March of Dimes response<<

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