Emails, mailboxes and voice mails are filling up with requests for charitable donations. Makes sense, as this is the season for giving and making end-of-year tax donations. This year, appeals are in even higher gear, given recent hurricanes, earthquakes and fires.
Most of us want to help organizations who help others or promote issues and institutions we treasure. But how do we make sure our donation counts?
Are you taking advantage of these tax deductions?
3 Tips to Ensure Your Charitable Gift Goes to the Right Place
Here are tips to avoid scams and support credible charities.
#1 Check Out Online Sites
As intriguing solicitations come across your desk, you can quickly and easily research the organizations to see if you should pursue further. You should be able to check out any reputable charity online.
The Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance rates a charity on 20 standards that cover governance, effectiveness, finances and fundraising. The standard rating is simple—met, unmet or unable to verify.
Many states require charities to register, often with the Attorney General. The National Association of State Charity Officials has compiled a comprehensive list with contact information.
The Internal Revenue Service maintains a list of organizations eligible to receive tax-deductible donations, as well as those that have had their tax exemption revoked for failure to file required reports.
GuideStar advertises itself as the “world’s largest source of information on nonprofit organizations.” GuideStar, also a charity, provides IRS reports, annual reports, revenue and expense dates for each charity.
#2 Don’t Presume Donation Requests for Police or Fire Are Credible
We want to make sure our community is safe, so when someone asks us to financially support our local police or fire department, we’re apt to say yes.
Not so fast, cautions the Federal Trade Commission. “Just because an organization claims it has local ties or works with local police or firefighters doesn’t mean contributions will be used locally or for public safety. Most solicitations, for police and fire service organizations, are made by paid professional fund-raisers,” according to the FTC.
The FTC recommends that you ask the solicitor for the exact name of the organization and written information on how the money will be used locally. Find out if the donation is tax deductible. Organizations such as fraternal associations and trade unions are tax exempt, but donations may not be tax deductible.
After you have gathered all the pertinent information and before you make a donation, contact your local police or fire department to verify the organization’s claims.
Also contact local law enforcement if the organization advertises you will get special treatment, such as a pass for speeding, if you donate. That’s a big red flag a scam is afoot.
#3 Don’t Give Impulsively after a Disaster
A hurricane, flood or other natural disaster brings out the best in us and, sadly, the worst.
After the horrific events of Sept. 11, 2001, for instance, dozens of people claimed to have lost loved ones so they could collect money from disaster relief agencies.
Because people want their charity dollars to go directly to relief for specific disasters, they make easy prey for scammers who register new donation websites, then take the money and run while frequently also stealing the giver’s identity. AARP advises that it’s wise to suspect that any donation solicitation from an unfamiliar organization after a disaster is a scam.
Many of these scams attract their victims on social media. Charity Navigator, another good website for researching charities, says that social media can help legitimate charities reach donors, but you still need to do your homework.
“Social networking tools like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and blogs can deliver heart-wrenching images and information about a disaster to our computers and phones. These often include pleas to donate. While these applications can be a powerful tool to inspire your desire to help, you should not blindly give via these vehicles,” the nonprofit explains.
To make sure donations go to well-intentioned charities, the AARP put together a list of 7 tips to spot fake charities. Here are 3 of them:
- Examine the web address. “Scammers often create rogue websites with sly misspellings, tweaks or sound-alike names. Also know that legitimate nonprofit organizations typically end in .org, not .com,” writes Sid Kirchheimer, author of Scam-Proof Your Life.
- Don’t donate over the phone. Tell the caller to send written material, so you can review. “Although mailed material is no guarantee of legitimacy, organizations that won't provide it are usually scams,” Sid writes.
- Ditto for door-to-door solicitations. Again, ask for printed materials so you can research the charity.
Get Ready for Giving Tuesday
This annual charitable fundraiser is held the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. Last year, “Giving Tuesday” raised $177 million online from donors in 98 countries.
More than 33,000 organizations are participating in this year’s event on November 28th, and you can start your research now.
“Giving Tuesday” attracts established charities, but also newer ones without much of a track record. When considering a gift to the latter, Nick Tedesco, with J.P. Morgan Private Bank’s Philanthropy Centre, offers this advice:
“Does the organization have a strong, reputable CEO and an engaged board? Is the bold vision commensurate with the anticipated resources it will bring in? When you look at a newer organization, you are taking on a bit more risk. But the opportunity for reward is great as well.”
Philanthropy Is a Part of Life at Kendal at Oberlin
Here are a few of our favorite charities that we’ve already verified for you. They include:
- Heifer International
- ELCA Good Gifts Catalog
- Green Gifts
On our website, we also have an option to donate to Kendal at Oberlin, a not-for-profit. Your gifts and the gifts of others, including many residents, help provide financial assistance for residents, capital improvements in the community, internships for students, and accumulation of charitable reserves.
If you want to find out more about how residents and Kendal give to each other, the community, and the world, just ask us. Give us a call at 800-548-9469 or 440-775-0094 or contact us online.
In the past, Molly Kavanaugh frequently wrote about Kendal at Oberlin for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, where she was a reporter for 16 years. Now we are happy to have her writing for the Kendal at Oberlin Community.