Don’t let your giving heart get scammed
December 25, 2012 - 10:00 am · By
nt-Let-Your-Giving-Heart-Get-Scammed-300×198.jpg” width=”300″ height=”198″ />You try to be a generous person all year, yet when the holidays come around, your heart grows even larger. However, don’t let your benevolence get the best of you. Unfortunately, many less-than-honorable people use the holidays as an excuse to scam you out of money, or at least ask you to contribute to a less-than-efficient effort. Take precaution and research the organizations that support the causes you want to support. You worked hard all year for your money–don’t let it go to waste now. Follow the tips below the get the most out of your donation.
Find a Responsible Charity
A good place to start is Charity Navigator. It cautions that the year-end holidays are a “time of religious and moral reflection that inspire many people to reach out to those who are less fortunate.” There also are tax deductions, but they might be a secondary consideration for some. Charity Navigator has an expanded ratings system to give potential donors “more knowledge to do more good” by analyzing a charity’s financial health, accountability and transparency. The organization cautions people to seek out fiscally responsible charities that are efficient with donations and have greater flexibility to achieve their goals.
Its guidelines also include digging beyond the heartwarming stories to find evidence of results. Charities should be able provide the quality and depth of their results, not just numbers. Charity Navigator recommends checking that the charity’s programs align with your philanthropic passions so you give to a cause with results you really want. Another idea is skipping a gala or golf outing, which Charity Navigator points out are inefficient ways to raise money, and simply write a check.
Avoid E-Mail and Phone Solicitations
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) offers general tips on avoiding charity fraud. Some are tips that can be applied year-round, such as not responding to unsolicited e-mails (spam) and being skeptical of people representing themselves as officials soliciting for donations through e-mail. The FBI advises people to be cautious of e-mails claiming to contain pictures in attached files, because they might contain viruses.
Another source that helps donors find trustworthy charities is FraudGuides.com. One of the website’s top tips is to never donate to a charity soliciting money by phone. If you want to donate, ask for a mailing address and then send a check; or better yet, look up the charity’s address on your own. Also, make checks out to the charity you are supporting — not the fundraisers.
The American Diabetes Association had a neighbor-to-neighbor program, where only 22 percent of the funds the association raised in 2011 from the nationwide program went to the charity, according to a report on its national fundraising that InfoCision filed with North Carolina regulators.
Many of the biggest-name charities in the U.S. have signed similarly one-sided contracts with telemarketers during the past decade. The American Cancer Society, the largest health charity in the U.S., enlisted InfoCision from 1999 to 2011 to raise money.
In fiscal 2010, InfoCision gathered $5.3 million for the society. According to the society’s filings with the U.S. Internal Revenue Services and the state of Maine, hundreds of thousands of volunteers took part, but none of that money went to fund cancer research or help patients.
A perhaps safer but still generous way to help those in need during the holiday season, according to Martha Stewart’s website, is to donate tangible goods to specific causes. The U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys For Tots Program, for example, is a time-honored tradition in which the corps accepts new, unwrapped toys at its donation centers. Another program is Operation Homefront, which involves people donating furniture and other non-monetary items for wounded soldiers, the military and its families. Then there’s always giving non-perishable items to local food banks and clothing to churches who distribute them to the needy.