It's important to know that a charity is legitimate before you make a donation. Legitimate charitable organizations will use your money in the manner in which it was intended, and your donation is usually tax-deductible. There are several organizations that serve various causes and are widely known to be legitimate.
American Red Cross
The American Red Cross (redcross.org, P.O. Box 4002018, Des Moines, IA 50340) helps prepare communities for natural disasters and other emergencies and provides aid to areas that have been affected by catastrophes. You may designate your donation for a specific area of need, such as for the March 2011 magnitude-9.0 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, help for military members and their families, disaster relief for tornadoes and winter storms, or simply for where the need is greatest. The American Red Cross also hosts myriad blood drives throughout the year.
American Cancer Society
The American Cancer Society (cancer.org, P.O. Box 22718, Oklahoma City, OK 73123) provides support for cancer patients and funds research on cancer cures and treatments. It supplies wigs to women who have lost their hair because of cancer treatment. It also hosts annual walking relays at locations across the U.S. to raise money for and awareness of the disease. The organization lobbies legislators to pass laws that aim to defeat cancer. In addition to one-time donations, the organization accepts donations of vehicles and estate and trust donations.
Habitat for Humanity
Habitat for Humanity (habitat.org, 121 Habitat St., Americus, GA 31709) is an organization rooted in the Christian faith that provides housing to disadvantaged families and to people who have lost their homes to natural disasters.Volunteers build houses around the world and donations help fund the costs of materials and construction. The organization aims to eliminate homelessness and has various programs, including one that teaches disadvantaged women how to build affordable homes.
The United Nations Children's Fund, or UNICEF (unicef.org, U.S. Fund for UNICEF, 125 Maiden Lane, New York, NY 10038), aims to help children worldwide by protecting their rights and encouraging their survival and development. UNICEF sponsors an annual event on Halloween, when trick-or-treaters request money instead of candy and donate the money to the organization. The organization advocates for free, compulsory education for all children and campaigns for the elimination of HIV and AIDS in children, among other causes.
The Salvation Army
The Salvation Army (salvationarmyusa.org) offers a wide variety of community services in 124 countries. Services include an anti-pornography campaign, housing and assistance for the homeless, drug and alcohol cessation, missing persons recovery, disaster relief, youth camps, adult rehabilitation and assistance for the elderly. The organization accepts donations of cash, airline miles, vehicles and clothing, furniture and household goods. It always is looking for volunteers. The Salvation Army requests that monetary donations made by mail be sent to your local chapter. See the organization's website to locate the nearest one.