Next Tuesday is being touted as “Giving Tuesday” and is designed to kick off holiday season giving. Donors will see mailings, calls, and other solicitations from charities seeking support. Many are worthwhile, others less so. Some are outright scams. How can you tell the difference?
A convincing name and persuasive pitch is no guarantee the charity is trustworthy. The U.S. Navy Veterans Association created by John Donald Cody (aka Bobby Thompson) bilked donors nationwide out of an estimated $100 million, including nearly $2 million in Ohio. This “charity” operated for almost 8 years until law enforcement finally caught up with it. Cody was convicted in 2013 and sentenced to 28 years in prison. The millions in donations, unfortunately, are long gone and never reached their supposed veteran beneficiaries.
Tragedies or other events that gain wide media attention also give rise to suspicious fundraisers. When Dallas nurse, Amber Joy Vinson, contracted Ebola, her family was surprised to find a Go Fund Me site was raising donations in her name. The fundraising page, gofundme.com/AmberJoyVinsonFund, had raised over $600 in one day. The site was taken down after BBB issued an alert and the family confirmed they were not affiliated with the site.
When making your holiday giving decisions, BBB advises:
Look for BBB Accredited Charities. These charities have undergone a thorough review to meet BBB’s 20 Standards for Charity Accountability which include ethical fundraising, governance and use of donations. Check out local charities atbbb.org/cleveland. BBB charity reports contain information on an organization’s programs, finances, governance, and more.
Do not be fooled by low overhead claims. Some charities spend smaller portions of their annual budgets on fundraising and administration, yet still fail to meet one or more of the BBB’s twenty Standards for Charity Accountability.
Get the charity’s exact name. With so many charities in existence, mistaken identity is a common problem. Thousands of charities have “cancer” in their name, for example, but no connection with one another. Resist pressure to give on the spot, whether from a telemarketer or door-to-door solicitor.
Do not click on links or downloads. If you get an email from an unfamiliar organization asking for a contribution, do not click on links or download attachments. You could download viruses to your computer. Scammers send out millions of fake ‘phishing’ emails every day to steal your personal information.
Press for specifics. If the charity says it’s helping the homeless, for example, ask how and where it’s working. Check websites for basics. A charity’s mission, program and finances should be available on its site. If not, check for a report at www.give.org, BBB’s repository of reports on nationally operating charities.
Check with the Attorney General. Any organization located in or soliciting donations in Ohio must be registered with the Ohio Attorney General. You can check at http://charitableregistration.ohioattorneygeneral.gov/Charities/Research-Charities.aspx
Make sure your donations are tax deductible. Don’t assume that every soliciting organization is tax exempt as a charity. You can readily check an organization’s tax status at www.irs.gov/app/eos.