Tomorrow is Giving Tuesday, and millions of people around the world take this opportunity to generously donate their hard-earned money to worthy causes.

Unfortunately, not all charities are as worthy as they appear to be. Some are flat out scams, others squander donations meant to help people in need on things like executive salaries and swanky donor dinners.

In fact, two very deserving causes – cancer research and veterans – have drawn a lot of questionable organizations that try to cash in on our generosity, while only a tiny percentage of our donations ever get to where they were supposed to go. According to CharityWatch, the leading independent charity watchdog, popular charities “Help the Vets” and “Breast Cancer Outreach Foundation” are among the worst, with both scoring F (for failure) ratings.

CharityWatch also has a comprehensive list of their top-rated charities, which undergo a strict vetting process before they’re graded.

In order to get top marks from CharityWatch, a charitable organization typically

  • spends at least 75% of their funds on programs
  • spends $25 or less to raise $100 from public support
  • doesn’t hold on to excess assets (for “reserves”)
  • openly disclose their basic financial information to CharityWatch

So if you want your donation dollars to be used for real charitable programs – and not for advertising, galas, and island retreats – look up the organization on the CharityWatch website…

And have a generous Giving Tuesday.