Photo by Kristen Ralph

Photo by Kristen Ralph

CONYERS -- Now that Santa is done making his list and checking it twice, it's time for you to do the same.

Before the year is over, there are a few things you can make sure you have handled in order to help out others this year and yourself next year, when tax season rolls around. But make sure you don't rush the process and make mistakes along the way.

"With so many people out of work and in need, it's extremely important that you maximize the impact your holiday donations have by avoiding the common giving mistakes," said Fred T. Elsberry Jr., president and CEO of the BBB serving metro Atlanta, Athens and northeast Georgia. "A smart donor takes a hard look at a charity's programs, finances and governance before making a donation. While almost all charities have the best of intentions, not all organizations meet standards or are well managed."

What you donate this year to certain companies and organizations by Dec. 31, you may be able to deduct from your 2010 taxes if you have handled the situation properly.

Donating clothes or other items to a charity is typically tax deductible.

Organizations like Goodwill, the Salvation Army and local food pantries make it easy for residents to drop off unwanted clothing, household items and food all throughout the year.

"This is by far our busiest time of year for donations," said Elaine Armstrong, director of public relations for Goodwill.

Goodwill of North Georgia received 59,337 donations during the last week of 2009, including 17,935 on Dec. 31 alone.

Even so, she said it won't take long to donate your unwanted items.

"It is usually really quick," she said. "If there is a line of cars, it will take a little bit longer than normal."

Before you donate your items, make sure it's a reputable company and get a receipt from them in order to provide proof on your taxes. While the Internal Revenue Service defines more than 20 different categories of tax exempt organizations, contributions to groups in only a few of these categories are tax deductible, according to the Better Business Bureau.

Locally, the Salvation Army is located at 5193 Washington St. S.W. in Covington; Goodwill sites are located at 3173 U.S. Highway 278 N.W. in Covington and 1543 Ga. Highway 138, Suite J, in Conyers; Rockdale Emergency Relief is located at 350 Tall Oaks Drive S.E. in Conyers; and the Covington Community Food Pantry is located at 7125 Turner Lake Circle S.W. in Covington.

Direct contributions to needy individuals are not deductible -- contributions must be made to qualified organizations in order to be tax deductible, according to the BBB.

Giving a cash donation to certain organizations also are tax deductible.

Donations given to many churches, charitable organizations, educational institutions, scientific organizations and other non-profit groups often are tax deductible on federal income taxes.

Contributions are deductible for the year in which they are actually paid or delivered, according to the BBB.

To be deductible, charitable contributions must be made to qualified organizations; some additional forms might be required when you fill out your taxes, according to the IRS.

The BBB Wise Giving Alliance recommends that donors avoid these common mistakes when donating to a charity:

* Failing to do your research before you give. Even good friends may not have fully researched the charities they endorse, so don't just take their word for it. Visit www.bbb.org/charity to verify that a charity meets the BBB's 20 Standards for Charity Accountability.

* Succumbing to high-pressure, emotional pitches. Giving on the spot is never necessary, no matter how hard a telemarketer or door-to-door solicitor pushes it. The charity that needs your money today will welcome it just as much as tomorrow.

* Assuming that the charity wants any item you donate. Worn out, unusable or unwanted donated goods cost charities millions of dollars each year because the organization has to bear the cost of tossing the unacceptable donation. If you have questions about an item's acceptability, call the charity and ask.

* Mistaking a charity's identity. With so many charities in existence, their names can blur in a donor's mind and similar-sounding organizations are common. Be sure you know which charity you're supporting and that it's not a case of mistaken identity.