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Make the most of Mother's Day

By Erica Hill
CNN Headline News
Whether your mom's passion is animals, gardening or kids, there are a number of organizations you can donate to on your mother's behalf.
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(CNN) -- The Internet is a wealth of information, and, as it turns out, unconventional gift ideas. This Mother's Day, you can send Mom anything from bath beads to precious stones to peonies, all with the click of a mouse. You can also send help to people around the world in honor of someone who has undoubtedly helped you over the years: mom.

My producer's mom, we'll call her "Mrs. Z," called her son and told him exactly what she wants this year: A donation to a cause that she supports. In this case, the cause is Women in Need.

The New York-based nonprofit group was founded in 1983 to serve homeless and disadvantaged women. According to its Web site, the organization now serves more than 7,500 women and children, with an aim of restoring dignity, promoting independence and providing stable housing. The ideas seem simple -- likely comforts many of us never had to think about -- but the impact of even one small gift in Mrs. Z's name can be great.

There are a number of organizations that would love to have some help this Mother's Day, and likely many moms that would like to avoid adding to the clutter around the house. (Note: "clutter" does not include homemade goodies from kids and grandkids).

Whether your mom's passion is animals, gardening, literacy programs or kids, there is a way you can help this year on her behalf. A simple search will bring you a host of ideas, but before you donate online, make sure the charity or organization is legitimate.

The Federal Trade Commission, the Better Business Bureau and Charity Watch -- part of the American Institute of Philanthropy -- all offer tips for safe donations. Below are a few that are common to all the organizations. You can find more guidelines and tips at their Web sites.

1. Know the charity

Charities must offer detailed information about their work -- make sure you understand and agree with it. If you don't find what you're looking for online, call the organization. Most legitimate ones will be more than willing to offer the information you need.

Also, don't be misled by names that sound familiar. You don't want to be scammed when you're trying to help. Check out the organization at the FTC, BBB, or AIP sites (the AIP runs Charity Watch) for legitimacy.

2. Know where your money goes

Find out how much of your donation will go directly to the cause -- the AIP recommends in most cases that 60 percent of your donation go to the chosen services, and less than 40 percent should be spent on administrative and fund raising costs.

3. Don't give cash

Make a check out directly to the organization, or pay by credit card, especially if donating online. Be sure to get a receipt.

4. Be wary of emotional appeals

If the sob story is a little too down on its luck, chances are it might not be true. You can always call the organization to clarify the story and the group's activities.

If you still want to get your mom something tangible, you could always spend some time with her. Remember, giving back to your mom is a great gift too, after all she has done for you.

Of course, you can also order something online, but don't wait too much longer, or the shipping charges will hit your wallet harder than the gift!

However you plan to celebrate, I hope it's a great day for everyone. Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there, and to my mom: Thanks for being the best! I wouldn't be here without you.

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