The Ice Bucket challenge has been a big social media hit recently, with celebrities from across the globe pouring buckets of ice water over themselves to help raise money for ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The viral campaign raised more than $15.6 million from July 29 through August 18, compared to $1.8 million during the same period in 2013, according to NBC News.

This celebrity charity challenge highlights the ability of big stars to bring attention to a good cause. If it’s inspired you, you may be wondering how you can get involved with your favorite celebrity cause. But with dozens of famous people regularly contributing time and money to all sorts of charitable organizations, it’s important to do a little research first.

Pinpointing the charity

hollywood charititesIf you already have a celebrity in mind, it’s easy to find out which charities he or she supports, just by doing a little Internet research. Sites like LookToTheStars.org have a long list of celebrities along with the causes they support. For example, you’ll see that Brad Pitt has supported nearly 40 charities and foundations, which means you’ll have plenty to choose from if he’s your favorite celeb. It also includes a list of particular causes that are close to his heart, like homelessness and human rights, the environment, missing children, and peace.

While you want to do something that’s in line with what your favorite star supports, it’s also important to pick a cause that you care about as well. If something on the list hits home with you, make a note of that and go from there. Ideally, choose at least a few, just in case further research determines that the organization isn’t one that you wish to support.

Research the charities

Next, you’ll want to research the charities on your list. Just because your favorite celebrity is involved with it, doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily a good one. Celebrities can be taken advantage of just like the average person. The Internet has made it easier than ever to obtain information about a non-profit’s finances, so you’ll want to be sure that the organization is using its donations in the best way possible.

You can check the legitimacy of a charity by looking it up on GuideStar.org, in order to make sure that it’s a tax-exempt organization in good standing with the IRS. You can also perform research on sites like the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator and GiveWell in addition to obtaining information from the charity’s website, looking for positive, widespread results.

Avoiding charity scams and protecting your personal information

Unfortunately, there are some less than scrupulous people out there looking to take advantage of your generous nature, which makes it essential to be aware of red flags that could indicate a scam. Avoid any organization that refuses to provide information about its identity, mission, how funds are used, or won’t provide proof that your contribution is tax deductible. If it uses a name that is similar to a well-known reputable organization or tries to pressure you into donating immediately so that you don’t have time to research its legitimacy, beware.

Other red flags include asking for cash donations, guaranteeing sweepstakes winnings in exchange for your donation, or offering to send an overnight delivery service to immediately collect the donation.

To further protect your financial health, as well as your overall well-being, using a service like LifeLock is one of the best ways to ensure the security of your personal identity while still allowing you to contribute to a great cause.

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