To ensure your money will benefit the people, organization or community you intend, the Pennsylvania Department of State offers the following tips:

- Never give to a charity you know nothing about. Do not hesitate to request written information from the charity regarding its programs and finances.

- Never commit to donate over the phone unless you are familiar with the organization, and hang up the telephone on aggressive and harassing solicitors.

- Never give cash, credit card numbers or bank account numbers; always write a check payable to the charity so you have a record of your donations.

- Be wary of "guaranteed" sweepstake winnings in exchange for a contribution. Participation in sweepstake offers is voluntary, and donors are in no better position to win the sweepstakes than non-donors.

- Don't be fooled by a convincing name or one that sounds like the name of a well-known charity.

- Don't make assumptions when you hear words like "police" or "firefighter" in an organization's name. Although an organization claims it has local ties or works with local police or firefighters, it doesn't necessarily mean contributions will be used locally.

- Don't feel guilty about not supporting all the charities that ask you for a contribution.

- Be aware of statements such as "every penny will go to the charity." All charities have expenses, so check carefully and know where your money goes.

(The Department of State's Bureau of Charitable Organizations administers the state's charitable solicitation law and maintains a registry of organizations in Pennsylvania. To find out if a charity is registered, search the online database or call 1-800-732-0999.)