A reader: I have a dollar amount that I budget for charities each year. Some are local some are not. With everything in the news about fraudulent charities, where do I go to find out if what I am giving is going to a good cause?
Action Line: This is an excellent question. There are so many generous Americans like yourself. You need to do your homework! We get many calls requesting information about charities that claim to represent police, fire or veterans organizations, cancer, Alzheimer’s, blindness…. The list goes on and on.
Americans are incredibly big-hearted when it comes to helping those less fortunate or supporting those service people who spend their lives protecting ours. Therefore it is especially important that we give where it will do the most good.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) along with the attorneys general of all 50 states say four cancer charities have conned donors out of $187 million and spent almost nothing the help cancer patients. Here’s the full report: https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2015/05/ftc-all-50-states-dc-charge-four-cancer-charities-bilking-over Make sure you know who you are giving to.
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The BBB Wise Giving Alliance, the arm of the BBB system which evaluates nationally-soliciting charities, is a great place to start. Give.org reports on about 1,300 nationally soliciting charities. In addition, about half of the 112 Better Business Bureaus in the United States and Canada cumulatively produce reports on over 10,000 locally soliciting charities using the same BBB Charity Standards as BBB WGA. See more at BBB Standards for Charity Accountability.
Like the FTC, the BBB Wise Giving Alliance is concerned about many practices that are common to police, firefighter and veterans’ fundraising organizations including:
▪ High fundraising costs with little remaining to assist the named cause;
▪ Excessive pressure in telephone fund raising appeals;
▪ Lack of clarity about what programs donations will be assisting; and
▪ Unlike a true charity, donations to these organizations are not tax-deductible.
The BBB offers the following tips to help donors make wise decisions before donating to police, firefighter, or veterans’ charities:
▪ Check Before Giving. Visit www.bbb.org/charity to access detailed charity reports and giving advice. Donors can also check out charities with their state government’s charity registration agency, usually a division under the Attorney General.
▪ Mistaken Identity. Just because the organization tells you they are a charity, doesn’t mean they are. You can check their tax status at www.irs.gov.
▪ Telemarketing Cautions. Don’t fall for pushy calls, especially ones that use emotional appeals to get you to give. If called, don’t hesitate to ask for written information on the charity’s programs and finances.
▪ On-the-Spot Donation Decisions. Don’t be pressured into making an immediate on-the-spot donation. Charities should welcome gifts whenever provided. Ask for contact information and tell them you will get back to them after checking with the BBB.
▪ Clear Program Descriptions. Look for a clear program description of the organization’s activities in its appeals and website. For example, if it says it is helping veterans, does it explain how (e.g., financial, housing, and/or counseling, etc.) and where it is doing so? Is there a physical address and a contact name along with a phone number for the organization?
These tips are not meant to discourage giving. They are simply to help you know when and how to give wisely.
Action Line is written by Blair Looney, president and CEO for the Better Business Bureau serving Central California. Send your consumer concerns, questions and problems to Action Line at the Better Business Bureau, 4201 W. Shaw Ave., Suite 107, Fresno, CA 93722 or firstname.lastname@example.org.