If charities are on your holiday gift list this year, follow these tips from your BBB to help you make wise giving decisions.
o Whether you’re approached to give money in person, by phone or through the mail, don’t feel pressured to give money on the spot. Remember, a legitimate charity will appreciate a donation just as much tomorrow as it will today. A legitimate charity wants you to feel comfortable and informed about its programs before you donate.
o Don’t give cash. When dealing with an individual solicitor, make your contribution by check, and make the check out directly to the charity.
o Don’t make donations to telemarketers by credit card unless you initiate the call to a familiar charity.
o If you’re unfamiliar with an organization, request information about its programs and finances. It’s important to know what the charity plans to do with your money and the organization’s track record for following through with the funds.
o Beware of “sound alike” organizations. Carefully examine solicitations to make sure the organization is the one to which you intend to donate.
o Is your contact with the organization through a paid solicitor? Some soliciting organizations keep as much as 99% consistent of the donations they gather. Consider donating directly to the organization to help make sure the charity makes the most of your money.
o Ask if your contribution is tax deductible. Whether or not you plan to take the deduction on your income taxes, this information can help identify true charities. Don’t rely on a statement that an organization is tax exempt – “real” charities should have a 501(c)(3) tax status from the IRS – exemption doesn’t mean the same thing. Keep records of your donations for tax time.
o If you are asked to buy a product as part of a donation program, keep in mind that the entire cost of the item is probably not deductible no matter what the status of the organization is. Only the portion of the price above the fair market value for the product can legitimately be deducted in most cases.
o Check out the organization with the Better Business Bureau before you donate. The BBB compares the performance of hundreds of charitable organizations to specific standards for charities and reports those evaluations to the public. We maintain files on both national and local charities, so call us for a report.
Remember, every dollar you donate to a less-than-legitimate organization is a dollar out of the budget of a charity with worthwhile programs providing valuable services to your community. Make the warm feeling you get from making a donation genuine. Give… but give wisely.