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Religious Charities

Religious charities operate in the U.S. and world-wide. Learn how they work.

Religious organizations of all kinds support charity work. [© Jupiter Images, 2009]
© Jupiter Images, 2009
Religious organizations of all kinds support charity work.

Religious charities are organizations based in a religious institution or value system. In the United States, religious charities are exempt from federal income taxes, and donations made to them are tax deductible. In 2005, gifts to religious charities totaled $93.2 billion - almost 36 percent of all contributions, according to Charity Navigator.

People make charitable donations for many reasons, but they most often do so to help people in need. Many people are motivated to donate to religious charities that have tax-exempt status in order to recieve a tax benefit. Other donors may also feel a sense of obligation to donate to religious charities because of their faith and religious beliefs.

Types of Religious Charities

Religious charities are specific to a certain religion or denomination. Some of the bigger religious charities in the U.S. include Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA), the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

Many religious organziations sponsor not-for-profit institutions that service the general public, such as hospitals. Mt. Sinai in New York is rooted in the Jewish Community and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital was founded by Danny Thomas's American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities group as a place where children could get treatment, and doctor's could research diseases that affected children.

Some people might be surprised to know that groups like the Shriners and YWCA of the USA are some of the biggest charities in the U.S., operating on the surface to bring a little joy into kids' lives, but also piloting community projects troughout the country and the world. Shriners International sponsors 22 hospitals, and the YWCA organization sponsors health and wellness programs, day camps and after-school programs for kids, and fights racism.

Cause-orinted Charities

Other religious charities focus on a single cause, to which they devote all their time and resources. For example, some focus on relief for the poor in other countries. These charities provide food, clothing, shelter, education and medical aid to impoverished communities nationwide. They may also provide relief in the case of natural disasters, such as typhoons in Southeast Asia or famines in Africa.

Some religious charities channel their energy toward meeting the needs of children. For example, Christian World Adoption (CWA) provides adoption services for children in six countries. Other child-based religious charities provide training for the blind, build schools and care for orphans around the world.

Donating to a Charity

Those donating to religious charities want to help people and be sure that their money is going to a good cause. Unfortunately, there are quite a few charity scams that take advantage of people's generosity. Donors should do their homework before contributing to any religious charity to ensure that it is legitimate.

Begin by researching the charity online. Many charities have their own Web sites. If the donor is not sure if the charity is legitimate, he or she can visit the official Web site of the Better Business Bureau and search for the charity by name. The Better Business Bureau also lists and rates charities, including religious charities. Visitors to the site can find financial information of how much of a donation actually goes to the cause and how much is needed to pay operational expenses and salaries or administration fees. If information isn't available through the Better Business Bureau, each state maintains a database of businesses that have not-for-profit status in the state where the charity was incorporated.

Donors should ensure that the charity is tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. As previously mentioned, most religious charities are tax-exempt -- or are in the process of applying for tax-exempt status. It's important to remember that a donor can only recieve a tax benefit if the charity to which they're donating has earned its tax-exempt status.

If a potential donor asks a religious charity for written material about the organization and the charity refuses to send any (a common excuse is that written materials are too costly), the donor should beware. Legitimate charities do not have anything to hide and are used to providing letters of acknowledgements or reciepts.

Donors should never make cash donations, and checks should always be written to the specific charity, never to a person. In addition, if a donor is approached by a door-to-door solicitor or over the phone by a charity representative, he or she should never be subjected to high-pressure sales pitches. These are signs of a scam. Lastly, donors should never give their credit card information to door-to-door solicitors or use their credit cards to make donations over the phone unless they are absolutely sure the religious charity is legitimate. Otherwise, they run the risk of becoming victims of credit card fraud and identity theft.

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