BBB Logo

Better Business Bureau ®
Start With Trust®
North Alabama
Information and FAQs for Charitable Donors

If a charity isn't evaluated by BBB, does that mean it's not legitimate?

Absolutely not. Since there are more than one million charities that have received charitable tax exempt status form the IRS, we can’t report on them all. Omission from this list has no negative significance; it simply means that we have not evaluated the organization. Either we have not received inquiries about the charity, or the organization has not approached us, at its own initiative, to request that an evaluation be completed.

How do I get information on a charity that we do not evaluate?

Often, the best source of information is the charity itself. You can contact the organization you're interested in directly and request a copy of its most recent annual report and IRS Form 990. The charity should provide this information to you in a timely manner and these materials should give you a general idea of how the organization spends the money it raises.

You can also contact the government office responsible for registering charities in your state. This office may be able to provide some information about the charity you're interested in; you may be asked to pay a copying fee and wait several weeks for your request to be processed. The information available varies from state to state, as do the fees involved and the length of time needed to process a request.

Also, www.guidestar.org maintains an online database on thousands of nonprofit organizations, based on their IRS Form 990 filings.

The charity appeal I received asks that donations be sent to a P.O. Box in a city that is different from the organization's street address. Is this cause for concern?

Generally no. Charities that conduct major direct mail campaigns frequently hire outside firms to collect and deposit funds on behalf of the organization. Soliciting organizations often contract with banks or other parties to ensure all checks are accounted for and promptly deposited. These firms may be located in other areas. As a result, the PO Box may in fact be a means to ensure greater security and control over contributions.

I received a request from a charity to solicit my neighborhood on their behalf. What should I consider in deciding whether to participate?

More charities are adopting this type of fund raising practice and recognize that an in-person appeal from someone you know may be more successful than a letter or telephone call from a stranger. However, accepting this appeal assignment also entails responsibilities. For example, your neighbors and friends may assume that you have taken time to check out the organization. Have you reviewed the charity's program service activities, finances, governance, and whether or not the organization meets accountability standards, such as those of the BBB Wise Giving Alliance?

Also, you may want to verify that the charity is registered to solicit in your state by contacting the appropriate government agency (usually the attorney general's office in your state).

For security and record keeping purposes, it is best not to collect cash. Ask for a check made out to the full official name of the organization and remember to promptly mail the collected donations to the organization. Be aware that neighbors who are unfamiliar with you may be reluctant to provide you with a check that includes their checking account number and perhaps other personal information and may prefer to mail the contribution directly to the charity.