BBB Offers Ten Giving Tips for the Newtown Tragedy

December 20, 2012

Contact: Tracey Anton, Senior Manager, Marketing & Communications
Phone: 212-358-2828 | Email:

In light of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, the Better Business Bureau cautions donors about potential red flags in fund raising efforts to help that community and to be aware of the different circumstances that often emerge in tragedy-related philanthropy.

“The deep emotion that engulfs us regarding this tragedy will result in people being drawn to help the Sandy Hook families, advocacy groups and mental health charities among others,” said Claire Rosenzweig, President and CEO, of the BBB Serving Metro New York. “Ask questions to be sure you are comfortable with how your gift will be used and to understand the sometimes complicated legal character of the gifts.”

The BBB offers ten tips to help educate donors, avoid problem appeals, and give with trust.

1. Thoughtful Giving

Take the time to check out the charity to avoid donating to a questionable or poorly managed effort. The first request for a donation may not be the best choice. Be proactive and find trusted charities that are providing assistance. Reports on over 10,000 local and national charities are available at

2. State Government Registration

About 40 of the 50 states require charities to register with a state government agency (usually a division of the State Attorney General’s office) before they solicit for charitable gifts. If the charity is not registered, it may be a significant red flag.

3. Respecting Victims and Their Families

Before you give to an organization raising funds for a family or victim, ask for proof that the group has the families’ permission to use the names and/or photographs of the victims. Some charities raising funds for the Colorado movie theater victims did not do this and were the subject of criticism from victims’ families.

4. How Will Donations Be Used?

Watch out for vague appeals that don’t identify the intended use of funds. For example, how will the donations help victims’ families? Also, unless told otherwise, donors will assume that funds collected quickly in the wake of a tragedy will be spent just as quickly. See if the appeal identifies when the collected funds will be used.

5. What if a Family Sets Up Its Own Assistance Fund?

Some families may decide to set up their own assistance funds. Be mindful that such funds may not be set up as charities. Also, make sure that collected monies are received and administered by a third party such as a bank, CPA or lawyer. This will help provide oversight and ensure the collected funds are used appropriately (e.g., paying for funeral costs, counseling, and other tragedy-related needs.)

6. Advocacy Organizations

Tragedies that involve violent acts with firearms can also generate requests from a variety of advocacy organizations that address gun use. Donors can support these efforts as well but note that some of these advocacy groups are not tax exempt as charities. Also, watch out for newly created advocacy groups that will be difficult to check out.

7. Online Cautions

Never click on links to charities on unfamiliar websites or in texts or emails. These may take you to a lookalike website where you will be asked to provide personal financial information or to click on something that downloads harmful malware into your computer. Don’t assume that charity recommendations on Facebook, blogs or other social media have already been vetted.

8. Financial Transparency

After funds are raised for a tragedy, it is even more important for organizations to provide an accounting of how funds were spent. Transparent organizations will post this information on their websites so that anyone can find out and not have to wait until the audited financial statements are available sometime in the future.

9. Newly Created or Established Organizations

This is a personal giving choice, but an established charity will more likely have the experience to quickly address the circumstances and have a track record that can be evaluated. A newly formed organization may be well-meaning but will be difficult to check out and may not be well managed.

10. Tax Deductibility

Not all organizations collecting funds to assist this tragedy are tax exempt as charities under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Donors can support these other entities but keep this in mind if they want to take a deduction for federal income tax purposes. In addition, contributions that are donor-restricted to help a specific individual/family are not deductible as charitable donations, even if the recipient organization is a charity.

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