Charitable Giving

Don't let scammers steal your money or your personal information if you make the decision to be generous and charitable. Here are some tips to protect yourself and ensure that your money gets to the causes you wish to support.

Be smart about responding to email solicitations

  • If you donated to an organization online, signed an online petition, or responded to a survey -- perhaps through social media -- you also provided your email information. Doing so is implied, if not specific, permission for that organization to contact you via email again until or unless you tell them not to by opting out.
  • Email is a normal channel now for nonprofits to ask you for continued support. They can reach you with very timely messages and connect you with relevant information on their website.  If you have any doubt it’s always best to go directly to their website - rather than clicking the links in the email.
  • Be a skeptic of email solicitations from charities you have not heard of before or haven’t in some way supported or contacted. Despite how official an email may seem it could be a scam.  Do not follow any links within the message. If you are interested in the organization and want to learn more about them, the best starting point is to check to see if they are rated and then to contact the organization directly to learn more. 

Beware of requests to send money overseas

  • As a rule, any organization requesting that you send funds to a foreign bank is a scam.

Delete unsolicited emails with attachments

  • It’s not typical for legitimate emails from organizations to include attachments. If there is something they want you to see, they are going to direct you to information or photos on their website. Do not open any attachments to these emails even if they claim to contain pictures of a recent tragedy. These attachments are probably viruses.

Be inspired by social media, but still do your homework

  • Social media delivers heart-wrenching images and information about charitable causes. Many of them include pleas to donate. You should take the time to investigate the groups behind such pleas for help to ensure that it comes from a legitimate nonprofit and then go to that charity's website to make your donation.

Think Before You Text

  • So long as you do your homework – meaning that you’ve vetted the charity and made sure that you are using the proper texting instructions - then texting can be a great way to give. Remember there may be additional costs to you to make such a gift. And it can take as much as 90 days for the charity to receive the funds.

Be skeptical of people that contact you online claiming to be a victim

  • Anyone alleging to be in this position is most likely part of a scam. People affected by a disaster or afflicted by a disease are in no position to contact you directly for assistance.

Avoid Telemarketers

  • Be wary of fundraisers who pressure you to make a contribution over the phone. Never divulge your credit card information to someone soliciting you via the phone. Instead, ask the fundraiser to send you written information about the charity they represent and do some research on your own. Once you feel comfortable with the charity, send the organization a check directly in the mail, or give through their website, thus ensuring 100% of your gift goes to the charity and not the for-profit fundraiser.

Seek out the charity’s authorized website

  • The results of a general web search may include a fraudulent site designed to look like a legitimate charity’s website.  Criminals are likely to set up bogus sites to steal the identity and money of generous and unsuspecting individuals.  So, how can you determine if a site is valid?  Start by examining the web address. Most non-profit web addresses end with .org and not .com. Avoid web addresses that end in a series of numbers. Also, bogus sites often ask for detailed personal information such as your social security, date of birth, or your bank account and pin information. Be extremely skeptical of these sites as providing this information makes it easy for them to steal your identity.

    Your best option is to start your web search on a charity rating web site to find the charity organization’s authorized website. Also, read the news by checking the charity's recent media coverage through Google news or another similar service.  You should also check if the charity is trustworthy by contacting the Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, or GuideStar.

  • Check for evidence of the charity's commitment to accountability and transparency.  The best charities are transparent and accountable to the public. You should be able to see evidence of this in the information they provide on their web site. Can you readily find information about the charity's staff and Board of Directors? Did the charity publish its financial information such as its most recently filed Form 990 or audit?

Find out if a charity has a donor privacy policy.  

  • If you can’t find the privacy policy on the organization’s website, ask to see it in writing.  You should have the option to request that your name and address not be shared with other organizations, if you wish. Some charities require that you “opt-out” of having your personal information shared. If that’s the case with the charity you are planning to support, then be sure to take the time to let them know that you want them to keep your contact information confidential. 

Give to an established charity

  • Don't let an unscrupulous charity take advantage of your goodwill. Find a charity with a proven track record of success with dealing with the type of disaster and in the region in which the disaster occurred. Avoid fly-by-night charities created specifically to deal with the new crisis. Even well-meaning new organizations will not have the infrastructure and knowledge of the region to efficiently maximize your gift. If you do feel compelled to give to a new charity, be sure to get proof that the group is in fact a registered public charity with 501 (c) (3) status.

Signs of a Charity Scam

Avoid any charity or fundraiser that:

  • Refuses to provide detailed information about its identity, mission, costs, and how the donation will be used.
  • Won't provide proof that a contribution is tax deductible.
  • Uses a name that closely resembles that of a better-known, reputable organization.
  • Thanks you for a pledge you don’t remember making.
  • Uses high-pressure tactics like trying to get you to donate immediately, without giving you time to think about it and do your research.
  • Asks for donations in cash or asks you to wire money.
  • Offers to send a courier or overnight delivery service to collect the donation immediately.
  • Guarantees sweepstakes winnings in exchange for a contribution. By law, you never have to give a donation to be eligible to win a sweepstakes.

Charity Checklist

Take the following precautions to make sure your donation benefits the people and organizations you want to help.

  • Ask for detailed information about the charity, including name, address, and telephone number.
  • Get the exact name of the organization and do some research. Searching the name of the organization online — especially with the word “complaint(s)” or “scam”— is one way to learn about its reputation.
  • Call the charity. Find out if the organization is aware of the solicitation and has authorized the use of its name. The organization’s development staff should be able to help you.
  • Find out if the charity or fundraiser must be registered in your state by contacting the National Association of State Charity Officials.
  • Check if the charity is trustworthy by contacting the Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, or GuideStar.
  • Ask if the caller is a paid fundraiser. If so, ask:
The name of the charity they represent
The percentage of your donation that will go to the charity
How much will go to the actual cause to which you’re donating
How much will go to the fundraiser
  • Keep a record of your donations.
  • Make an annual donation plan. That way, you can decide which causes to support and which reputable charities should receive your donations.
  • Visit this Internal Revenue Service (IRS) webpage to find out which organizations are eligible to receive tax deductible contributions.
  • Know the difference between “tax exempt” and “tax deductible.” Tax exempt means the organization doesn’t have to pay taxes. Tax deductible means you can deduct your contribution on your federal income tax return.
  • Never send cash donations. For security and tax purposes, it’s best to pay by check — made payable to the charity — or by credit card.
  • Never wire money to someone claiming to be a charity. Scammers often request donations to be wired because wiring money is like sending cash: once you send it, you can’t get it back.
  • Do not provide your credit or check card number, bank account number or any personal information until you’ve thoroughly researched the charity.
  • Be wary of charities that spring up too suddenly in response to current events and natural disasters. Even if they are legitimate, they probably don’t have the infrastructure to get the donations to the affected area or people.
  • If a donation request comes from a group claiming to help your local community (for example, local police or firefighters), ask the local agency if they have heard of the group and are getting financial support.