Buy from us! We donate to charity!

The holiday season brings out the best in many people, especially those who give of their time and money to charities. Retailers have found a way to get a piece of the action: Offer to donate a portion of sales to a charity.

But shoppers should beware of the catalogs and signs trumpeting charitable contributions. The results of these programs vary, and there is little to no oversight of them. Many retailers don't specify how much money will be given, stating only that a portion of proceeds will be donated. Others are more specific in terms of dollars to be donated for each purchase, but in almost all cases, no one is checking up on companies to see if they really made the promised donations.

Charities are sometimes being caught off-guard by these gimmicks used by retailers - some don't even know that their charity is being used in promotional materials. Some directors of non-profit organizations wonder if such promotions could diminish the goodwill associated with their names, particularly if some of these charity drives later turn out to be scams.