Ten Tips for Better Giving
Most charities are honest and ethical, but questionable solicitors are counting on the fact that you won't bother to check out the charity before you give. Here is some basic wise giving advise:
1. Watch out for similar names. As there are many charities raising funds for similar causes, some charity names sound the same. Be sure to look at the name carefully, because the charity soliciting you may not be the one you have in mind.
2. Do not be pressured to make an immediate gift. Be wary of solicitors that demand an on the spot donation. Charities should welcome your gift whenever you want to send it.
3. Question vague appeals. Appeals should clearly identify the charity's programs. Watch out for appeals that are strong on identifying a problem, but weak on describing what specifically the charity intends to do about it.
4. Do not give out personal information to phone solicitors. Don't give out credit card numbers, checking account numbers or any other personal information to unknown telephone solicitors.
5. Do not give cash. Write out a check to the charity's full official name, not to an individual or third party that may be collecting the donation.
6. Keep record of your donations (receipts, canceled checks and bank statements) so you can document your charitable giving at tax time. (Note: The IRS requires donations of $250 or more to be substantiated through a written receipt from the charity.)
7. If you want a deduction, make sure the organization is a charity. There are many different types of soliciting nonprofit organizations. Most appeals will indicate if the organization is eligible to receive gifts deductible as charitable donations. (To be sure, review the list of organizations in IRS Publication 78 or ask the charity for a copy of its tax exempt status determination letter.)
8. Don't hesitate to ask the charity for written information on its programs and finances. This tip can be particularly helpful in responding to phone appeals from charities that interest you.
9. To verify if a charity is registered to solicit, contact your state government. In most cases, this will be the state's office of the attorney general. Remember that state registration does not mean approval, it means the group has filed the appropriate forms.
10. Report bad practices. Contact your Better Business Bureau and your state's Attorney General office about solicitation problems.