What makes a good charity?
It is important for donors to be careful when selecting a charity to support. Some charities are outright scams. Others siphon most of the money they receive towards administrative costs rather than reaching out to the community. Still others are legitimate but ineffective and poorly run. Donors need to do their homework before handing over their hard-earned cash to the wrong people. To make sure a charity is real, do your research:
- Does the charity have 501(c)(3) status? If it’s not, donors cannot claim their donations on their taxes. (This shouldn’t scare donors away from international charities—most have some affiliation in the U.S. and are registered with the IRS.)
- Does the charity have a clear mission statement? The charity should have a clear mission statement posted on its website.
- How does the charity use its donations? A charity should use the majority of the money it receives from donations to support its programs rather than to pay off executive salaries or do more fundraising. Donors should be able to request and receive written material about how the charity uses its funds. When researching a charity, donors need to be very sure they are researching the correct charity. Scam artists frequently use names similar to those of a well-known charity to trick donors. For instance, one scam artist named his charity “Kids Wish USA.” Many of his victims confused the name with that of the legitimate charity “Make A Wish Foundation.”
Where do I find information?
Look to websites like kidsforColoradoGives.org, give.org, or CharityNavigator.org to help you find information. Kids for Colorado Gives is a great way to research local, Colorado nonprofits. Give.org offers charities, that meet their standards, a logo with the phrase “BBB Wise Giving Alliance Standards” on it. CharityNavigator.org offers a “Four Star Charity” logo to their highest-rated charities, and it provides information about international charities.
What about Professional Fundraisers: A Look at Who’s Asking You for Money
Many charities do their own fundraising. Others hire professional fundraisers who are then entitled to keep a percentage of the money they raise. Sometimes a scam artist will pretend to be a fund raiser and keep all of the money. People who are called on the telephone by someone soliciting funds for a charity should hold onto their wallets. The best approach is for the donor to explain that he or she does not respond to telephone solicitations, but would be glad to consider donating if the caller would send them something in writing. If the caller refuses, the donor should hang up. No legitimate charity would hesitate to provide written information to a potential donor. Another strategy is for donors to request the full name, address, and phone number of the charity and then contact the charity directly for more information.
How do I give?
Many charities accept online donations, but be sure your charity is legitimate before you enter your credit card information online. Also make sure the website you’re using is secure–most browsers warn you if it is not. If you’re mailing a donation, be sure to send a check rather than cash.
And remember, giving doesn’t have to be about money. Think about how you can give your time, talent, and treasure!