'Tis the giving season, charities hopeDecember 1, 1996
Web posted at: 10:20 p.m. EST
From Reporter Louise Schiavone
ARLINGTON, Virginia (CNN) -- The bell ringers are at their posts, and the appeals are stuffing mailboxes and ringing telephones off the hook.
It's the annual season of giving, and Americans remain the most generous givers in the world. Charities collected nearly $144 billion in the United States last year, said Bennett Weiner of the Better Business Bureau.
"I figure I'm out spending money -- I might as well share a little bit," said Betty Sylvester of Greenbelt, Maryland.
The U.S. sports more than 600,000 charities. Among the best supported last year were the Salvation Army at about $742 million, the American Red Cross at $465 million, and the American Cancer Society at $381 million.
Charities large and small share the same objective: a share of your money.
"Competition is pretty stiff, so you will see more mailings," said Paul Clolery, Editor-in-Chief of the Non-Profit Times.
The top 100 charities in the nation raised a record $22.8 billion last year, almost 10 percent more than in 1994, according to the publication.
News of charity scams and high-living non-profit chief executives has made givers think twice about which ones to help.
The six-figure salaries of some non-profit executives has given some donors pause. In 1994, Easter Seals paid its CEO $235,000, the American Red Cross paid CEO Elizabeth Dole $200,000, and Care USA's chief executive received $278,000.
Big charities are required to file a Form 990 with the Internal Revenue Service, and potential donors are within their rights to ask for a copy.
Watch-dog groups offer some additional guidelines. Givers may be more comfortable donating to local charities, or local chapters of larger charities, to see how their money is spent.
A word of advice from the BBB?
"Watch out for excessive pressure," Weiner said. "The charity that wants your money today will welcome it just as much tomorrow."
With a little judgment, experts say, would-be donors should not worry about giving in to the season of giving.
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