‘Tis the season. Black Friday is coming. The advertisements are already in our faces. We are at least collecting Christmas lists if not already shopping. ‘Tis the season of giving. Most of us will be giving presents to our significant others, our kids, our extended family, our friends, our kids’ teachers or daycare providers, the neighbors, and yes, possibly even the neighbors’ dog (I’ve seen it happen).
With all of that giving cheer going around, there are others looking for a gift as well. You will find them ringing bells in front of many stores. Perhaps they are asking for a donation when you check out. You will probably get a special appeal or two in the mail. I wish I could help them all, but the reality is that hardly any of us have enough to give to everyone.
Wanting to make the most of our resources and still protect ourselves, there are a few key items we need to pay attention to during our Holiday donation giving. Please note – the presence of any of these does not necessarily mean that it is fraud. Instead, this is a list of red flags to watch out for. Should any of these pop up, just make sure you do your due diligence before exposing yourself and your resources to those Christmas Scrooges.
Here are a few things to pay attention to:
Failure to Identify – Pay attention to names. While there are those charitable organizations that we all recognize, there are others that are not nearly so familiar. Some of these may truly just be newer or smaller organizations. On the other hand, fraudsters may use names sounding similar to common, legitimate organizations to try to catch the unwary.
If you find one you are not familiar with, ask questions. Ask where the organization is located. Ask what they do. Ask who they are associated with. Ask about the specific activities they do. They key is – get informed. If they aren’t willing to disclose the basics, find out what they are trying to hide. The organizations that we all know and donate to do some great work. But dig into some of the lesser known organizations and you may be blown away by what the legitimate ones are doing.
Google Knows All – Perhaps not all, but the internet certainly provides information and networking to help us evaluate potential donation recipients. Type in the name of the charity you are looking at and see what comes up in the search.
There are two ways to look at organizations on the internet. First, look at their official organization web site and read what they are willing to put out there about themselves. Make sure they are an organization that reflects your own values. They will also most likely share exactly how they spend the money that you will send them. Will it be used directly in certain programs and services? Or will the bulk of it go to more fundraising and marketing?
Second, aside from their own website, read what other reviews and comments are saying about the organization. Be aware that some people with an ax to grind may simply be basking in the anonymity of the internet. But if you see a trend appearing in the comments, pay very close attention.
Can You Say “Not Today” – If you aren’t sure about the organization asking for your hard-earned cash, it is perfectly OK to say “Not today”. You aren’t saying “No”, but rather just “Not right now”. This will give you time to take and review any paperwork or materials they may have as well as following our point above regarding Google. If you like what you find, you haven’t said “No” and you aren’t contradicting your self if you then go back to give a donation later.
There may well be some who try to pressure you into giving on the spot. “But people need your help NOW”. “We will be moving to another location tomorrow and don’t want you to miss this opportunity to give.” Don’t give in. Most legitimate charities would rather build an ongoing relationship with you rather than burning you through a one-time donation. Towards that end, they will respect your position of waiting for today.
Cash Today, Gone Forever – Pay attention to their preferred donation methods. Most fraudsters fear getting caught and so will want to eliminate any potential paper trail in the process. If they only accept cash, money orders, or prepaid cards, the little hairs on the back of your neck should start to tingle a little. A few bucks in a bucket probably isn’t that big of a deal; but if an organization is looking for a percentage of your income in cash…..
Considering donation methods, credit cards are perhaps the best option. They are traceable should something go awry, don’t give anyone direct access to your bank accounts, and may provide additional protection should fraud come into play. If you are going to donate online, pay attention to the top of your browser window. The page address should begin with “https”. The ‘s’ stands for ‘secure’. There will probably also be a little padlock symbol somewhere in the same vicinity that tells you the site is safer for personal information.
What Does the IRS Say Besides ‘PAY UP’ – OK, OK, insert your joke here…. Now that we have the required jokes out of the way, it’s not always a bad idea to wake the beast that is the IRS. I think it is pretty safe to say that you aren’t going to put yourself on the schedule for an income tax audit by asking about the legitimacy of an organization. As part of your own due diligence in researching charities, you can follow this link to find out if the organization has registered with the IRS. If they show up as having taken the time and trouble to complete the government’s requirements, they are probably more on the up and up.
By following the link above, you can search by an organization’s name, location, and deductibility status. You can even search a list of those organizations that have had their ability to receive tax deductible donations revoked (look out fraudsters). You can also find out why and if they have gotten things straightened out. You may even use the site to search for a new charity that has the same passions you do. Just for the sake of research, I searched for any organizations in the country that have ‘Santa Claus’ in the organizational name. I found 34 different organizations dedicated to the jolly old man that can accept tax-deductible donations!!! There is even a Santa Claus School – I’ll let you guess as to what subjects they teach.
By all means – if you have found yourself blessed and want to pass those blessings on, please do. Just do a little research to make sure you really are sharing blessings rather than ending up with a lump of coal in your stocking this year. It doesn’t take a lot to be able to give something. If you would like help in evaluating your giving situation as a part of your budget, our counselors would be more than happy to help you responsibly bless someone else. You can contact us here for more information.
written by Breck Miller
images courtesy freedigitalimages.net