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Charitable gift giving

Ever wonder how much you're giving is actually given to the charity? Keeping these tips in mind will help you decipher whether or not it's worth it.

By Gerri Willis, CNN

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Giving a present that also benefits charities may seem like the perfect holiday gift, but in most cause-related marketing, less than 10 percent of proceeds go to charities.

So before you open your wallet, we're going to tell you what's worth it...and what's not.

1: Purchase with caution

Buying products for a cause is nothing new. And sometimes they can be some very worthwhile purchases. For example, if you buy a bottle of Ethos Water, which is owned by Starbucks, the coffee company will contribute 5 cents toward clean drinking water programs in developing nations. When you buy a red 4-gigabite iPod Nano, $10 of the purchase price goes to the Fighting AIDS in Africa. But you need to be a diligent consumer.

You should know exactly how much money from your purchase is going to the charity. Companies don't have to disclose how much they give and the charities don't have to report how much they get, according to Sandra Miniutti of Charity Navigator.

Watch out for vague promises and glitzy marketing campaigns. These companies may be spending more on marketing the relationships than on the contribution to the charity. Even if you see a pink ribbon, it doesn't mean the breast cancer charities will get any proceeds. Anyone can slap on a logo.

In case you're confused about all those pink ribbon campaigns, check out thinkbeforeyoupink.com. There you'll get a breakdown of all the pink ribbon campaigns.

2: Forget affinity cards

These are credit cards that are affiliated with a specific charity, like the Humane Society or the Red Cross. The way it works is that every time you use your card the bank donates a percentage of the amount you purchased to the organization.

But the fine print here is that these cards tend to have interest rates that can run up to 18 percent. Worse yet, the charity is only getting up to 1 percent of the amount you purchased.

This means that if you charge $100, the bank will give $1 to charity. After 12 months of spending this much, that's about $12. In some cases, the charity only gets .25 percent from what you buy.

Understandably, card issuers don't like to disclose how much goes to these non-profit groups, says Curtis Arnold of Cardratings.com. "You'll have better luck calling the charity and asking," Arnold said.

If you want to use your plastic for good, you're better off getting a general rebate card that will give you 5 percent rebate and send the rebate to the charity of your choice.

3: Hit the charity malls

Charity malls have hit the Internet. At sites like greatergood.com and igive.com, you can buy gifts online and a percentage of the purchase price goes to which ever charity you choose.

There have not been many complaints about these companies, according to the Better Business Bureau's philanthropic arm. But, you may just want to bypass these portals and go straight to the Web site of the charity you're interested in. Charities often sell products directly on their sites.

4: Browsing for dollars

You can benefit charity not only by the gifts that you purchase, but by changing your daily practices. One way you can do this is to raise money for charities by browsing the Web.

Goodsearch.com is a Yahoo! (Charts)-powered search engine that will donate 50 percent of its ad revenue to the charity of your choice when you use the site to do an Internet search.

According to their co-founder J.J. Ramberg, a former CNN reporter, you'll raise about $.01 cent per Internet query and the numbers can add up. Five hundred people searching 4 times a day could generate about $7,300 a year, according to Goodsearch.com.

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Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.