Tips on evaluating a charity:
_ Check out the finances of and other information about the 47 congressionally chartered veterans groups and their affiliates that Knight Ridder examined at www.krwashington.com.
_ Get a copy of the group's most recent charitable tax return, called an IRS Form 990. Charities are required to give a copy to anyone who requests one. The returns for many groups are available on the Web at www.guidestar.org. Watchdog groups recommend that a minimum of 60 to 65 percent of a group's expenses go for charitable programs and no more than 35 to 40 percent to fundraising and administrative-overhead costs. That information can be calculated from the tax returns.
_ The American Institute of Philanthropy evaluates and rates charities, and produces watchdog reports. Call 773-529-2300 or go to www.charitywatch.org.
_ The Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance also evaluates charities. Go to www.give.org or call 703-276-0100.
_ To voice your opinion about the oversight and spending practices of congressionally chartered veterans groups:
The House Judiciary Committee is responsible for overseeing chartered organizations. Call 202-225-3951 or go to www.judiciary.house.gov to send e-mail.
The Senate Finance Committee is scrutinizing the practices of tax-exempt organizations. Call 202-224-4515 or go to www.finance.senate.gov to send e-mail.