all want to give, but we also want to
be sure that our gifts go to legitimate,
worthy organizations that will use our
money to support valuable programs.
is your checklist of 25 things to look
out for and be cognizant of when you’re
considering making a gift to a charity.
Many of these relate to telemarketing,
since in this form of fundraising, you
can’t see the person to whom you’re
talking. But they are all good ideas
to keep in mind as you examine which
charities you want to support.
Develop a giving plan. It
all starts with you being pro-active!
So develop a giving plan of how much
you’ll give, when you’ll
give and to whom you’ll give.
You don’t need all the specifics,
just a general sense of these items.
2. Take your time in
making giving decisions and resist
high-pressure appeals. The faster
the sales pitch, the more you should
just say no. Legitimate charities
don’t need money at the exact
moment a solicitation is made.
3. If an organization uses
threats, or repeated and harassing
calls or visits—call your local
Better Business Bureau to report the
4. If an organization
has called on you on the phone, never—EVER—have
someone come by your house to pick
up a check. This is a big
tip-off that you’re dealing
with a scam.
5. Do not contribute cash.
All contributions should be in the
form of a check or money order made
out to the charity—never to
the individual soliciting the donation.
6. Don’t be fooled by
charities with worthy-sounding names,
or names that might sound similar
to other organizations. Some questionable
charities create names that are intended
to sound like other well-known charities
and mislead potential donors.
7. Know the charity you
are considering supporting. Ask the
charity to send you a brochure or
have them direct you to a website.
If the response is slow, reluctant
or not forthcoming at all, consider
a different charity.
8. Before making
a gift, offer to volunteer
your time. In this manner,
you can not only help the organization
but learn more about its goals, programs
9. Don’t be fooled by
official, technical-sounding terms
like “tax identification
number” or other jargon. Lots
of different types of organizations
have “tax identification numbers,”
but it doesn’t make them charities.
Organizations pushing these sorts
of jargon should be avoided.
10. When you’re
examining a website for an organization
with which you’re not familiar,
look for indications that
the website is updated and maintained
correctly, has specific information
about current programs and contains
obvious contact information. A website
that deals in very broad generalities
should raise questions, but shouldn’t
necessarily disqualify a charity from
support. Dig deeper if you feel connected
to the cause.
11. If you’re
giving online, be sure that
the website has appropriate security
and privacy features. For
example, on the donation, the address
should be begin with “https”
to signify that the site is secure
and is safe to provide credit card
and other information.
12. For an organization
for which you’re not familiar,
ALWAYS check its contact information
during regular working hours and make
sure you get a real person with knowledge
of the organization.
13. Beware of fundraising
letters and other materials that look
like invoices or bills. Legitimate
charities won’t send fundraising
appeals that look like that.
14. It is against the law
to demand payment for unsolicited
the popular address labels, greeting
cards, pens or calendars, to name
just a few. You are under no obligation
to pay for these items if they are
sent to you with a fundraising letter.
15. If you’re
asked to buy something to benefit
a charity—tickets to an event,
magazines, candy, etc.—find
out how much will go to the charity.
How much an organization will receive
will differ. There’s no right
amount, but be aware that it’s
quite likely that not all of the money
will be going to the charity. If you’re
concerned, contact the charity and
ensure the solicitor/seller has an
official relationship with the organization.
16. Know how much of your
gift will be tax deductible. This
is especially true when you buy something
on behalf of a charity (such as tickets
or a dinner). The amount of your deduction
is equal to how much you gave, MINUS
the value of what you received (i.e.,
the cost of the ticket or the dinner).
You can always turn down the item
if you wish to claim a deduction for
the full amount of your gift. Ask
the organization for more details.
17. Maintain the correct records.
It’s good practice
to get a written acknowledgement from
a charity about any gift, and legitimate
organizations will supply them proactive
as a best practice. The IRS requires
a written acknowledgement for gifts
of $250 or more. Otherwise, a canceled
check or credit card statement is
18. Ask a telemarketer if
he or she is working for a percentage
of the funds raised, is paid
a set salary or fee or is a volunteer.
If the telemarketer is taking a percentage
of funds raised, hang up the phone.
Percentage-based compensation is considered
19. Ask for how much of the
gift will be spent on programs.
It’s extremely rare that 90-100
percent of your contribution will
go to support a charity’s programs.
20. Use the Donor
Bill of Rights. This
document was created by a group of
philanthropic and fundraising organizations
dedicated to the advancement of ethical
and effective fundraising. Know your
rights, and challenge the charities
you support to uphold them. If they
don’t, tell them you expect
them to do so, or you’ll consider
21. Ensure that the
fundraiser and the charity
operate under a code of ethical standards.
AFP members are required to abide
by and sign annually the AFP
Code of Ethical Principle and Standards.
These standards or similar ones, can
provide confidence that the charity
and the fundraiser are legitimate
and providing the highest level of
ethical service to donors.
22. Be sure you know what
your gift is going to support:
specific programs, a campaign to construct
a building, general support, etc.
If a gift is given for a specific
purpose, it must be used for that
23. Use charity watchdog/ranking
organizations, but understand
what they can and cannot offer. With
more than a million charities across
North America, most such organizations
can offer financial information at
best, about charities which can be
helpful, but don’t provide the
full picture on impact, etc. More
popular and larger charities may be
reviewed in more depth.
24. Ask the organization for its Form
990 and/or financial audit.
First, it’s a good check on
a charity’s legitimacy and willingness
to educate donors, as charities are
required by law to provide copies
upon request. Second, these forms
can provide helpful information, but
won’t provide a full picture.
here to gain some insight on how
to read the Form 990 and what to look
25. Ask if the charity is
licensed by state and local authorities.
Registration or licensing is required
by most states and some local governments.