Donating to Charities
Thinking about donating to a charity? Whether we are contacted by mail, telephone or see a drop-box for clothing and domestic donations there are sensible practices and precautions to ensure the dollars benefit the people and organization you want to help. If someone asks for a donation, take your time and familiarize yourself with the charity.
When you are contacted:
- Don’t be shy about asking who wants your money . Some charities hire professional fundraisers for large-scale mailings, telephone drives, and other solicitations rather than use their own staff or volunteers, and then use a portion of the donations to pay the fundraiser’s fees. If you’re solicited for a donation, ask if the caller is a paid fundraiser, who they work for, and the percentage of your donation that will go to the charity and to the fundraiser. If you don’t get a clear answer — or if you don’t like the answer you get — consider donating to a different organization.
- Call the charity. Find out if the organization is aware of the solicitation and has authorized the use of its name. If not, you may be dealing with a scam artist.
- Ask for written information about the charity, including name, address, and telephone number.
- Contact the office that regulates charitable organizations and charitable solicitations in your state to see if the charity or fundraiser must be registered. If so, check to make sure that the company you’re talking to is registered. For a list of state offices, visit the National Association of State Charity Officials. Your state office also can verify how much of your donation goes to the charity, and how much goes to fundraising and management expenses. You also can check out charities with the Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance and GuideStar.
- Trust your gut — and check your records if you have any doubt about whether you’ve made a pledge or a contribution. Callers may try to trick you by thanking you for a pledge you didn’t make. If you don’t remember making the donation or don’t have a record of your pledge, resist the pressure to give.
- Be wary of charities that spring up overnight in connection with current events or natural disasters. They may make a compelling case for your money, but as a practical matter, they probably don’t have the infrastructure to get your donation to the affected area or people.
- Watch out for similar sounding names. Some phony charities use names that closely resemble those of respected, legitimate organizations. If you notice a small difference from the name of the charity you intend to deal with, call the organization you know to check it out.
- Be cautious of promises of guaranteed sweepstakes winnings in exchange for a contribution. According to U.S. law, you never have to give a donation to be eligible to win a sweepstakes.
- Be wary of charities offering to send a courier or overnight delivery service to collect your donation immediately.
- Know the difference between “tax exempt” and “tax deductible.” Tax exempt means the organization doesn’t have to pay taxes. Tax deductible means you can deduct your contribution on your federal income tax return.
- Do not send or give cash donations. Cash can be lost or stolen. For security and tax record purposes, it’s best to pay by credit card. If you’re thinking about giving online, look for indicators that the site is secure, like a lock icon on the browser’s status bar or a URL that begins “https:” (the “s” stands for “secure”).
If you see drop-boxes for donated goods:
- Each drop-box should list the company's name, Web site and phone number so people can find out where their donations go.
- Please check out the company before dropping off items.
- Nonprofit groups hope people will double check the boxes before they drop off items.
- Be aware of the location and the name on the drop-box. Drop-boxes located outside a charitable organization are not always for that charitable organization.
- Just because a drop-box is located outside of a charitable store does not always mean the donations go to that charity. Do your homework before donating goods.
BBB Wise Giving Alliance
4200 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 800
Arlington, VA 22203
4801 Courthouse Street, Suite 220
Williamsburg, VA 23188
Military Relief Societies
Although the U.S. Department of Defense does not endorse any charity, you can learn about military relief societies at
Before you open your checkbook, check out the charity you’re considering with these organizations. Note: Many small, new, or local charities may not be rated by the organizations listed here. Some fraternal organizations, like police and firefighter groups, may not be rated at all. If the charity seeking your donation is not listed or rated, follow the precautions listed under the Charity Checklist to help you determine whether it merits your donation dollars.
Reducing Telephone and Direct Mail Solicitations
Typically, when you donate to a charity, your name is placed on the charity’s contact list. The charity uses this list to contact you again for future donations, and often rents the list or exchanges it with other charities and fundraisers. If you feel overwhelmed with requests for donations, here are some steps you can take.
- Tell the charity to put you on their “do not call” list. By law, the charity must not contact you again. If it does, report it to your state Attorney General (www.naag.org) or your local consumer protection agency (www.consumeraction.gov). You can get the phone numbers for these organizations in your phone book, through Web directories and the FTC Web site.
Include a note with your donation asking the charity not to rent,
sell, or exchange your personal information and donation
Ask the organization to limit its donation requests to you to once or twice a year. If the organization fails to honor your requests, you may wish to find a different charity to support.
- Sign up for the Direct Marketing Association’s (DMA) Mail Preference Service (MPS) at www.dmachoice.org. The DMA’s MPS lets you opt out of receiving unsolicited commercial mail from many national companies for five years. When you register with this service, your name will be put on a “delete” file and made available to direct-mail marketers. However, your registration will not stop mailings from organizations that do not use the DMA’s Mail Preference Service. The DMA also has an Email Preference Service to help you reduce unsolicited commercial emails. To opt out of receiving unsolicited commercial email from DMA members, visit www.ims-dm.com/cgi/offemaillist.php. Your online request will be effective for five years.
- Sign up for the National Do Not Call Registry — the free, easy way to reduce the telemarketing calls you get. While charities are exempt from the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule that implemented the Registry, some will not call you if they know you don’t want to receive calls. To register your telephone number, or to get more information, visit www.donotcall.gov, or call 1-888-382-1222 from the phone you want to register. You will receive fewer telemarketing calls within three months of registering your number. Telephone numbers on the Registry will be removed when they are disconnected and reassigned, or when you choose to remove your number(s) from the Registry.
Telemarketing Sales Rule
The FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule applies to telemarketers who make calls across state lines on behalf of charitable organizations. The Rule restricts calling times to the hours between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. The Rule also requires telemarketers to promptly identify the charitable organization they represent and to disclose that the purpose of the call is to ask for a contribution. Telemarketers may not mislead you or lie to get your contribution.
For More Information and Complaints
To learn more information about making your donations count, visit www.ftc.gov/charityfraud.
If you believe an organization may not be operating for charitable purposes, or is making misleading solicitations, contact your state Attorney General (www.naag.org) or your local consumer protection agency (www.consumeraction.gov). You can get the phone numbers for these organizations in your phone book or through Web directories.
You also may file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.