The holidays are a season of giving – not just to family and friends, but to charitable organizations as well. According to GivingTuesday.org, Giving Tuesday “kicks off the charitable season, when many focus on their holiday and end-of-year giving.” In 2015, 1.64 million online gifts raised 177 million dollars.
Holiday donations can make a big impact, and it’s easier than you think to get involved. However, it’s also important to be aware that fraudsters may try to take advantage of those in the holiday giving spirit. Hundreds of charity scams, which deceive individuals in to thinking they’re donating to legitimate charities, were reported to BBB Scam Tracker in 2016.
Charitable giving should always be rewarding, so keep these tips from your BBB in mind to maximize your impact this holiday season:
- Before doing anything, look up the charity at org. BBB Wise Giving Alliance (WGA) helps donors make more well-informed giving decisions and promotes high standards of conduct among charities. They evaluate charities against comprehensive Standards for Charity Accountability, and accredit those who meet all 20. When you look up an organization at give.org, you can see exactly where your donation goes – whether it be to programs, salaries, overhead costs, fundraising, etc. If you want to ensure your money is going to research rather than education or awareness (or any specific use), you can find these details at give.org. Although participation is voluntary, it should raise a red flag for donors if charities haven’t disclose any of the requested information to BBB WGA. In 2016, give.org’s BBB WGA charity reports were viewed around 3.5 million times.
- Research soliciting organizations.During the holiday season you’re likely to receive phone calls and mailers from charities every day. However, if you’re contacted out of the blue about donating to an organization, be wary. It’s possible that the charity doesn’t actually exist, and is using a fake but legitimate-sounding name and spoofing the Caller ID to create a false sense of security. Even if the organization is legitimate, you may not want to give them your money. BBB has warned in the past about charities that use donations mainly for fundraisers’ fees, salaries, and other administrative costs. So if a charity is asking for an on-the-spot donation outside of your local supermarket or at your front door, don’t succumb to pressure or emotional appeals. Check out the charity online at org and if you still want to donate, do so directly through their website. If you believe you’ve been contacted by a fraudulent charity, report it to BBB Scam Tracker.
- General donation tips. When charities seek support for the same cause, their names can be very similar. Before you give, be sure you have the exact name of the charity to avoid a case of mistaken identity. Avoid donating with cash, and ensure check donations are made out to the organization, not the person soliciting donations. Keep records of your donations; this includes receipts, canceled checks, and bank statements. Keeping these documents will allow you to document your charitable giving at tax time. Although the value of your time as a volunteer is not deductible, out-of-pocket expenses (including transportation costs) directly related to your volunteer service to a charity can be. Be wary of charities that are reluctant to answer reasonable questions about their operations, finances and programs – to be safe, find out this information for yourself atorg.
Unfortunately, you can’t automatically trust an organization just because it claims to be charitable. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, so follow this guide to ensure you don’t regret your charitable donations this holiday season.