Faced with ever-rising costs, the loss of government funding, AND an increasing demand for their services, charities are responding by asking for larger contributions from more donors–and they’re asking more often than ever before. Those folks who are able to donate to charitable causes would do well to plan their giving carefully and demand accountability of the organizations that solicit their support.
More than 80% of the money raised by charities in this country comes from individual people. Most people are trusting and sympathetic to a person who calls asking for money to cure a horrible disease, to help the homeless, to make a sick child’s wish come true. A large corporation has the legal and financial staff to check into the legitimacy of charities before they give, your average everyday person does not. But if 80% of the money raised by charities comes from INDIVIDUAL PEOPLE, we can’t have those people afraid to donate because they are unsure if they’re being duped.
To help these generous donors make wise giving decisions, I would like to share the following tips for Charitable Giving from the BBB Wise Giving Alliance (the Alliance). I hope they help. Please utilize them rather than closing your wallet to really worthy causes just because you are afraid!
- Do not give cash; always make contributions by check and make your check payable to the charity, not to the individual collecting the donation.
- Keep records of your donations (receipts, canceled checks, and bank statements) so you can document your charitable giving at tax time. Although the value of your time as a volunteer is not deductible, out-of-pocket expenses (including transportation costs) directly related to your volunteer service to a charity are deductible.
- Don’t be fooled by names that look impressive or that closely resemble the name of a well-known organization.
- Check out the organization with the local charity registration office (usually a division of the state attorney general’s office) and with your BBB.
- Mail appeals should clearly identify the charity and describe its programs in clear and specific language. Beware of appeals that bring tears to your eyes but tell you nothing of the charity or what it’s doing about the problem it describes so well.
- Appeals should not be disguised as bills or invoices. It is illegal to mail a bill, invoice, or statement of account due that is in fact an appeal for funds, unless it bears a clear and noticeable disclaimer stating that it is an appeal and that you are under no obligation to pay unless you accept the offer.
- Deceptive invoices are most often aimed at business firms rather than individuals. Contact your BBB for detailed guidelines on how to handle appeals disguised as bills or invoices.
- It is against the law to demand payment for unordered merchandise. If unordered items such as key rings, stamps, greeting cards, or pens are enclosed with an appeal letter, remember you are under no obligation to pay for or return the merchandise. If payment is requested, inform your BBB. In our experience, unordered merchandise can mean high fundraising costs.
- Appeals that include sweepstakes promotions should disclose that you do not have to contribute to be eligible for the prizes offered. To require a contribution would make the sweepstakes a lottery through the mail, and it is illegal to operate a lottery through the mail.
- Matching check appeals are not subject to any particular legal requirements. Donors should keep in mind, however, that they do not have to return the checks if they don’t contribute. The checks do not have any real value in and of themselves.