December is a critical fundraising month for charities. Many people make year-end gifts for tax reasons, or to extend the spirit of thanksgiving and generosity to those less fortunate. BBB offers a few DOs and DON’Ts when it comes to charitable giving, both at holiday time and year-round.
DON’T succumb 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 tomorrow – after you’ve had time to do your homework.
DO think before you give. If you are solicited at the mall or on the street, take a minute or two to think. Ask for the charity’s name and address. Get full identification from the solicitor and review it carefully. If you decide to donate, don’t give cash. Write a check made payable to the charitable organization, not an individual.
DO check out the charity carefully. Make sure you feel comfortable with how your money will be spent. Don’t just take the word of someone else; even good friends may not have fully researched the charities they endorse. Go to www.give.org to verify that a charity meets BBB Wise Giving Alliance’s 20 Standards for Charity Accountability.
DON’T assume that only “low overhead” matters. How much money a charity spends on the actual cause – as compared to how much goes toward fundraising and administration – is an important factor, but it’s not the whole story. A charity with impressive financial ratios could have other significant problems such as insufficient transparency, inadequate board activity and inaccurate appeals.
DO be sure it’s the right charity. With so many charities in existence, their names can blur in a donor’s mind and similar-sounding organizations are common. Many phony charities purposefully choose a name that sounds familiar. Be sure you know which charity you’re supporting and that it’s not a case of mistaken identity. Also remember that not all soliciting groups are charities. Be sure to verify their tax-exempt status with the IRS at www.irs.gov.
DO watch out for charity fraud. Legitimate charities do not demand donations; they willingly provide written information about their programs, finances or how donations are used; and they never insist you provide your credit card number, bank account number or any other personal information.
DON’T assume 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.
DO remember that unordered merchandise is free. If a charity sends you greeting cards, address labels or other merchandise with an appeal for donations, you are not obligated to pay for the items. These “free” items are funded out of the contributions received from donors.
DON’T accept vague claims. Statements such as “all proceeds go to charity” or “your purchase will benefit charity” are too vague. Look for a disclosure that indicates the actual or estimated amount of the purchase that the charity will receive to fund its programs.
Donors can check out BBB Wise Giving Alliance evaluations on nationally soliciting charities for free at www.give.org. For more tips, visit bbb.org.
Kelvin Collins is the president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Central Georgia &the CSRA Inc.