Before donating to a charity

You want to assert your donations and that is why it is important that you do a little research before donating to a charity. Here are some things you can do to learn more about a charity and avoid a donation scam.

Five things to do before donating to a charity

  1. Search the internet by entering the type of cause you are interested in supporting, for example, “hurricane assistance” or “homeless children”, along with phrases such as “top charity” or “top rated charity”. Once you find a specific charity you are considering donating to, search the internet by entering the name of the organization and adding words like “complaint”, “review”, “rating”, “fraud” or “scam”; If you are searching in Spanish, add words like “complaint”, “comments”, “rating”, “fraud” or “scam”. If you find negative comments, it might be better to find another organization.

  2. Check the charity organization’s website. Does it give you details about the programs you want to support and how you use donations? How much of your donation will go directly to support the programs you want to partner with? Be suspicious if you cannot find detailed information about the organization’s mission and programs.

  3. Use one of these organizations to help you research charities:

  1. Find out if the fundraiser and charity are registered. Some states require charities to register with the state charity regulatory body. Find out if the fundraiser and the charity they’re calling you on are registered with your state’s charity regulator.

  2. Find out if the donation will be tax deductible. If this is an important point to you, confirm that the organization you are donating to is registered with the IRS as a tax-exempt organization. Search for the organization name using the IRS Tax Exempt Organizations Lookup Tool.

Phone calls to ask for donations

If someone calls you asking for a donation, ask the following important questions:

  • What is the exact name of the charity and its web and postal address? In an attempt to mislead you, some rogue telemarketers use names that sound similar to those of major recognized charities. You should confirm this information.

  • How much of my donation will go directly to the program I want to support? The person calling you is most likely a paid fundraiser and not the charity itself. So after the fundraiser answers your questions, call the organization directly and repeat the questions. Or see if you can find the information on the charity’s website. What else do charities spend money on? Some fundraising activities can be expensive, leaving little money available for the charity to spend on their programs.

  • Are you raising money for a charitable organization or a Political Action Committee (PAC)? Not all calls for donations are from charitable organizations. Some calls could be from a PAC, and in that case, donations are not deductible and the PAC will use the money differently than a charitable organization.

  • Will my donation be tax deductible? To be on the safe side, check to see if you can find the name of the charity using the IRS Tax Exempt Organizations Lookup Tool. If it is true that the donations are tax exempt, the organization will appear on that list. Remember that donations to individuals and PACs are not tax deductible.

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Rules to be followed by people who call you on the phone

Fundraising calls are allowed, even if you have registered your number in the national Do Not Call Registry. If you want the fundraisers to stop calling you, ask them to put your name on the do-not-call list of the appropriate charity.

When a charity fundraiser calls you to ask for a donation, they have to follow a few rules:

  • They can only call at specific times. They cannot call before 8 am or after 9 pm

  • They have to reveal their name and the purpose of their call. They have to tell you the name of the charity and that the purpose of the call is to ask for a donation.

  • They cannot lie or deceive you about:

    • The collector’s relationship with the charitable organization.

    • The mission or purpose of the charitable organization.

    • If a donation is tax deductible.

    • How a donation will be used or how much of the donation will actually go to charity programs.

    • The charitable organization’s affiliation with the government.

  • They cannot use a pre-recorded automated call or recorded message to communicate with you, unless you are a member of the organization or have made a donation before, but even in these cases, they must offer you a way to opt out of the list to avoid future calls.

  • The information that appears on the caller ID must be true. The name of the charitable organization or fundraiser should appear on your caller ID device along with a number that you can call to request that their phone number be placed on the do not call list of requests for charitable donations.

If a fundraiser breaks any of these rules, it could be a sign of their dishonesty. Maybe you better find another way to donate to the cause you want to support.

How to pay when you make a donation

If you are ready to donate:

  • Don’t pay with money transfers or gift cards. If someone asks you to donate with a money transfer through companies like Western Union and MoneyGram, or by purchasing gift cards and sending them the codes, don’t do it. Scammers ask you to pay in those ways because those payment methods are difficult to trace.

  • It’s safest to donate by credit card or check, and only after you’ve done some research with the charity.

  • If you donate online, make sure the page where you enter your payment information has the letters “https” in the web address. That means your information is encrypted and transmitted securely. But encryption alone does not mean that the website is legitimate. Scammers also know how to code.

  • Be suspicious if they insist you donate with cryptocurrencies. If someone tells you that the only way to donate is with cryptocurrencies and that the charity does not accept checks or credit cards, it is likely a scam.

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After donating:

  • Review your bank account and credit card statements. Check that they have charged you the amount you agreed to donate, and that they have not subscribed to make recurring donations if it was not your intention.

  • Keep a record of all your donations. You may need them later in case your donations are tax deductible.

If I send money to a scammer, read What to do if you paid a scammer to learn how to try to get your money back.

Avoid donating to a fake charity

  • Don’t let anyone rush you to donate. Scammers often rush people so they don’t have time to research and analyze their statements.

  • Don’t trust your caller ID. Technology makes it easy for scammers to manipulate the information that appears in caller identification systems. It could give the impression that the calls are coming from your local area code, or from a specific organization, even if this is not true. Actually, the caller can be anywhere in the world.

  • AAIf the fundraiser tells you that you have already made or promised a donation, stop and check. They may lie to you, in a phone call or in a mailed material, saying that you already promised to make the donation or that you already made a donation last year. They think that by saying this you will be more willing to donate.

  • Listen carefully to the name of the charity, write it down and do your research. To mislead you, some scammers use names that are very similar to those of other charities. Do some research before donating.

  • Beware of emotional statements with few details. Be suspicious if you hear a lot of very general sentimental statements, for example, that the charity helps many families who cannot afford cancer treatment and wounded war veterans who cannot work, but do not give specific details about how your donation will be used.

  • Please do not donate with a money transfer or gift card. Anyone who asks you to donate in these ways is a scammer.

  • A prize from a raffle in exchange for a donation? No and no. If someone guarantees you that you will win a prize or a contest if you contribute, it is a scam. You won’t earn anything and your money will end up in the pocket of a scammer.

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How to donate on social media and crowdfunding campaign sites

The safest way to donate on social media or through crowdfunding or collective fundraising campaigns is to donate to people you know.

  • Don’t assume the request is legitimate because it was posted by a friend. Pay attention to who posts the donation request on social media. Reach out to your friend privately or offline and ask about the post they shared in the media.

  • Check where the link to donate takes you. Do you connect it with a crowdfunding campaign? In that case, all the money you donate will go directly to the organizer of the crowdfunding campaign. Are you sure that person will transfer the money to the cause you want to support? Please confirm this by asking the person who posted the link if they know the fundraiser.

For more tips on what to consider when asked to donate on social media or to a crowdfunding campaign read How to donate through crowdfunding campaigns, social media and fundraising platforms [link to new article].

Donate things instead of money

Have you ever donated clothing or household items to a charity? Donations of items, rather than money, made to charitable organizations are called gifts in kind. Sometimes gifts in kind can be important items, such as unused medical carts or equipment.

When a charity uses and reports these donations correctly, gifts in kind can be an important part of their programs. But a rogue charity can increase the value of donated items to make your organization appear more financially successful than it really is.

When researching the charity, pay attention to how you spend your money, don’t just consider the value of gifts in kind. If a charitable organization is using gifts in kind to inflate the volume of its operations, but then spends most of its money to pay its executives or cover operating expenses, it is in your best interest to donate to another organization.

Report charity scams

Report scams to:

  • the FTC in ReporteFraude.ftc.gov.

  • your state’s charity regulatory body. Find out which is the appropriate regulatory body at nasconet.org.

When reporting a charity scam, share whatever information you have, such as the organization’s or fundraiser’s name and phone number, how the fundraiser contacted you, and what they said to you.

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