CLEVELAND — It's that time of year when our mailboxes, e-mails and phones are filled with appeals from various groups asking for donations. There are roughly 1.5 million charitable organizations in the U.S. and some may sound very similar.
"You may think it's your, you know, your local animal shelter or you may think it's a charity that you're familiar with, but the name may just be a little bit different than what you know to be true."
So how can you make sure that a charity is legitimate?
Erika Dillworth with the Cleveland Better Business Bureau told News 5 the first step is to do your homework on the charity.
"Reach out to them directly so you know exactly who you're doing business with and who you're going to give your money to."
Experts say you should also check to see if the charity is a 501-C-3 organization and if they have an employer ID number. They should also be registered with the Ohio Attorney General's office.
"You can go to the IRS website or you can come to a resource like Charity Navigator, and you can enter that organization's name or you can enter its tax ID, which will give you its very specific profile, and that will confirm if the organization is a valid charity," said Kevin Scally, Charity Navigator.
If an organization is asking you to make a donation in cash or by gift card, that might be a sign that it's not a legitimate charity. It's always safer to donate by credit card.
"If there's any problems or concerns, you have some protection to go back to your credit card and get it, you know, get some information."
If you get a phone call from someone asking for a donation, don't let the caller rush you into anything.
"I think the number one flag is if the charity is asking you for you to give right this minute right now," said Dillworth.
"Don't feel pressured into giving that gift. Don't give your credit card information over the phone. You can certainly ask for them to send you something in the mail," said Scally.
It's also a good idea to check how a charity will use your donation.
"The main thing that you want to look for is what the organization's mission is, what their model is, if they have a proven track record in delivering on that mission," said Scally.
Check the organization's website to see what percentage of money donated goes to their charitable work.
"Typically, we look for 70% or more to be allocated towards programs," said Scally.
For donors, that little extra research will make sure your donation will get to those who really need it.
To verify the charity and check its legitimacy, click here.
ABC News contributed to this report.