BBB Tips on Giving

November 30, 2012

Holiday time is the season for giving. These days, when household budgets are stretched, consumers naturally want to make the most of their precious contributions. The BBB can offer tips to help you avoid charity scams and enrich your experience as a philanthropist.

Avoid Scams

1. Be sure the group is a charity.

Not every group that solicits money at holiday time is a charity. In 2011, the Internal Revenue Service stripped over a quarter of a million charities of their tax exempt status, after they failed to file required paperwork for several years in a row. If you plan to deduct your contribution, take a moment to check the current list of tax exempt charities through the search utility in "Publication 78" at the IRS website,

2. Find out if the charity is properly registered with the state.

Check with your Attorney General’s office.

3. Check to see if the charity meets high performance standards.

The BBB has published reports on 9,000+ national and local charities, which have been assessed against the 20 BBB Standards for Charity Accountability. The Standards cover a wide array of evaluation points, including strong governance and financial management; accuracy and honesty in fundraising practices; privacy protection for donors; and the charity’s assessment of its own impact, to name just a few. We’ve done the homework for you. See all the reports at, where you can search for your charity by name.

4. Beware of sound-alike charities.

Questionable charity groups sometimes spring up in popular giving categories (such as cancer charities). If a charity sounds familiar but you aren’t sure about its identity, contact the BBB or your local Attorney General’s office to ask about it.

5. Say no to high-pressure pitches and charities you have not vetted.

If you are pressured by someone to give, over the phone or in person, ask to see written information or simply say no. High pressure or a refusal to provide written details are signs that you may be encountering a scam. Friends may contact you through social media, forward solicitation emails or text you about giving opportunities that sound cool but that are really unknowns which haven’t been checked out. If you are interested in one of these – check them out yourself before considering a gift.

6. Giving online

– Giving online is among the most efficient ways to support a charity. Before you enter in your numbers, give the website a thorough review and look for the organization’s privacy policy, and verify if the organization has appropriate security measures in place to protect such transactions.

7. Giving through text messaging

– The option to give via text message took off in the wake of the Haiti earthquake. After texting a message to a number, the donation is tacked on to your cell phone bill. Donating via text is fast and easy for the donor, but the money can take months to reach the charity, so consider donating directly to a charity through its website if there is an urgent need. 

Enrich Your Giving Experience

8. Choose charities that reflect your passions.

If you are a hiker, you may care about environmental issues and wildlife causes. If you are interested in visual or performing arts, you may decide to support museums or symphonies. Perhaps you know of a charity that is helping an underserved group or neighborhood that matters to you. This is a great time of year to "vote" for causes you care about, by supporting them with your dollars.

9. Look outside yourself: support charities that are meeting community needs.

In the current difficult economic environment, charities are facing increased needs with limited resources. Every donation matters, no matter how small. Look around and see what the needs are - where you live, and across the world. Then give to charities that are helping the communities you care about in key ways.

10. Be proactive with your giving.

It’s better to select charities yourself, check them out, and then go directly to them to make your donations, without waiting to be solicited. If you look up a charity’s website and donate through the site or call them to donate, you can be certain that your gift is reaching the actual charity of your choice. For any online donations, make sure you are giving through a secure site: look for the "https" letters in your browser, where the site’s address appears, as well as the lock symbol. When you give without being asked, you also save the charity money on fundraising costs, which can then be used for program purposes.

11. Give your time –

In today’s tight economy, you may not have money, but you can always give a little bit of your time to help support a worthy cause. In addition to volunteering around the holidays, you can also be a vocal supporter of a charity and help raise awareness among friends and family and on your Facebook page or blog.

12. Give items

– Many organizations solicit for donations over the holidays including coats, toys, and canned goods. Whatever you’re donating, make sure the items are of good condition and that the recipient charity is accepting such items to help further its cause.

13. Give when you shop

- Many charities have great success partnering with businesses that agree to donate some amount of the purchase price from sales of items to a worthy cause. Check if the promotion identifies the actual or anticipated amount of the purchase price the charity will receive. Also some businesses, like grocery stores, ask if you want to donate to a charity and have that amount added to your receipt.

14. Give with your family.

Many families like to research charities, talk about issues that interest them, and choose donations as a group. For parents, this can be an especially meaningful and rewarding way to spend time together and to impart strong philanthropic values to children.

15. Give with your friends.

Giving circles are popular. Like-minded individuals often form groups to share information and research about issues and charities. Sometimes they even join forces and give together to specific causes or nonprofits. This can be a valuable bonding experience, as well as a great way to sharpen your understanding of the community environment.