During the holidays, people give. They give gifts, give their time volunteering, and give money. But not all charities are transparent as they should be. The state attorney general's office says that's a red flag you should pay attention to. 

Jim Fleckenstein volunteers at Meals on Wheels in Syracuse to honor his mother.

"My mother was 90. She wanted to be independent, so one of my sisters contacted the local Meals on Wheels, and it really was a godsend to her," he said.  

He said he does it for his community and his mother.

"It reminds me of my mom knowing what it meant to her," Fleckenstein said.

Fleckenstein says he likes Meals on Wheels because it is a well-oiled machine and they're transparent.

"[It] seems to do exactly what it's supposed to do," he said.

Mike Nortman, head of Meals on Wheels Community Relations, agrees.

"It's transparency. We're open about how we do business," said Nortman. "We try to make our volunteers feel welcome. We don't hide anything from them. You know it's right here. It's right out in the open."

If you're thinking about donating to a charitable cause, here are some other things you should consider:

  1. Know the charity's mission. Knowing what cause they represent will help you understand where the money will go. 
  2. Be aware of new organizations created after tragedies. Fraudulent charities sometimes take advantage of disasters. 
  3. Double-check the name. If the name is similar to a well-respected charity, check that you're donating to the correct organization. 
  4. Make sure the site is secure. That means making sure "https://" is at the beginning of the web address. 
  5. Know where the money is going. This information should be readily available. If costs outweigh the amount spent to support the mission, donors should be wary.

The General Charities Bureau also suggests using watchdog websites like Charity Navigator, Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance, and American Institute of Philanthropy, to confirm the charity's validity.