At one time, I was the person in our BBB Spokane office who knew the most about charities. If you have a heart for those in need: animals, children, veterans, or any other group, here are some tips to keep your good intentions and your money going to the deserving—not scammers.
1) Start with Trust by checking the charity’s track record at www.bbb.org. Charities are currently measured against the Wise Giving Alliance’s 20 Standards for Charity Accountability.
2) Check with your Secretary of State’s Office to see if they report on charities. If they do, this is an extremely valuable resource. For example, of the three states my BBB covers, at the time of this writing, Washington reports on charities while Idaho and Montana do not.
- Washington requires charities to register in order to solicit donations from state residents. Even if your state doesn’t, you can still go here to find financial and other stats on the group.
- While our local food bank, Second Harvest, for example, puts 99 percent of its funds toward feeding the hungry, some groups allocate as little as 3 percent to their cause. The rest pays for fundraising and administration.
- The Wise Giving Alliance recommends only donating to charities that put 65% or more of the money they give toward their programs.
3) Ask the charity to send you written information, with a copy of their latest financial statement (usually an IRS 990 form) and their tax designation. Most charities are 501(c)3, meaning your donations are tax-deductible. Some, especially police or firefighter organizations, may be 501(c)19.
4) Beware of sound-alike charities that mimic the name of a well-known organization, but for which there is no verifiable information.
Remember: If there is need today, there will be need tomorrow. Never donate money to cold callers over the phone or give to a charity whose legitimacy you cannot verify. Always ask for written information.
Final thought: Ask yourself if you may be doing something to encourage unwanted solicitations. Dick Eppstein, CEO of the Toledo BBB, once had a lady bring in two grocery bags full of charity mailings. When the receptionist asked how one person could receive so many requests for donations, the lady shook her head, baffled. “I always write REFUSED, STOP, DO NOT CONTACT ME AGAIN, on the outside of the envelope,” she said. “Then I stick in a $5 bill and mail it off.”
Previously published in the Spokane Spokesman-Review