The holiday season is fast approaching, and so is the peak of charity giving. But how do you know if your donations are being spent responsibly?

According to Kiplinger's Personal Finance, several Web sites will analyze charities for you. Check out the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance at Give.org for a free analysis of various national charities. You can even request its staff to examine a national charity that's not already on their list — they can review it within six weeks.

CharityNavigator.org is an independent site that rates more than 5,000 nonprofits on financial efficiency. It even provides a list of "4-Star Charities," the highest ranked of the bunch.

The American Institute of Philanthropy is another charity watchdog. For $3, you can request a copy of its Charity Rating Guide (released three times a year) that rates more than 500 national charities. Its Web site, CharityWatch.org, even offers tips on online giving and donating your money wisely.

If you're looking for information on a Christian charity group, check with the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability at ECFA.org. It offers information on more than 1,200 Christian charity groups.

More-savvy folks might find GuideStar.org useful — you can look at recent nonprofit tax filings for free.

Of course, you won't find every charity on one of these Web sites, but that doesn't mean the charity in question is not legit. You should check with accrediting bodies, associations or state regulators before making a major donation.

Copyright (c) 2006 MarketWatch, Inc.