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End-of-Year Giving: Select a Charity and Avoid Being Scammed

Here are six quick tips to help you choose a legitimate organization and avoid being scammed.

The holidays are a time of celebration, family, reflection and to help those who are in need. Giving to a charity each year is easy for most of us. We find ourselves drawn to a cause, a particular group, or an organization’s mission. We want to help those who may be less fortunate than ourselves especially during the holidays when we often take the time to be thankful for what we have. When you have a personal tie to an organization, giving your hard-earned dollars is simple. 

According to the Charity Navigator website, on average, charities receive 41 percent of their annual contributions in the last few weeks of the year. However, what happens when you don’t have a charity in mind or you are new to giving monetary donations? Often during this time of year, con artists take advantage of the generosity of San Diegans and take the hard-earned money for themselves, rather than for reputable and legitimate non-profit organizations that serve the most vulnerable in our community. The average donation amount is much higher during the holiday season; in December, the average gift is approximately $142 versus an average of $91 for the year (source: Network for Good website) and the average person makes 24 percent of their annual donations between the Thanksgiving and New Year holidays (source: Center for Philanthropy).

Here are six quick tips to help you choose a legitimate organization and avoid being scammed:

Only give to a charity you know.

1. Do your research! Research an organization before you donate. There are a variety of online resources that provide free access to comprehensive reports about non-profit organizations. Start with a visit to California Attorney General's Registry of Charitable Trusts (oag.ca.gov/charities), the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance (give.org), Guidestar (guidestar.com) and Charity Navigator (charitynavigator.org). Plus, go to the organization’s website and really get a good understanding of what the charity does and who benefits from your donation.

2. Ask questions. Real charities are able to tell you how they use their donations and what portion of your contribution will go directly to the group they are trying to help. Ideally, 85 cents of every dollar raised should go directly to direct programs and services of the charitable organization, with the minimal amount remaining to underwrite administrative salaries and operational expenses. Also, ask them for a 990 tax form. If they cannot give you this information, don’t give them your money.

3. Do not send to a P.O. Box. Make sure the organization has an actual street address, where you can go and see the charity in action at anytime.

4. Ask for a tour. Or even better just show up unannounced. A reputable charity would be delighted to give you a tour on the spot.

5. There should be no hard sell. Organizations don’t need money “today.” If they cannot give you an answer for what the donation is to be used for then walk away.

For example here at Senior Community Centers, we provide all the details a donor may want to know about our organization on our website. There you can reference our last four annual reports to see exactly where your dollars will be spent and we encourage you to come “kick the tires” and get to know our organization. We offer tours five days a week and will walk you through several of our locations, including our nationally recognized Gary & Mary West Wellness Senior Center. Everything is transparent and that is exactly what you want in your charity. 

When you donate this holiday season, make certain to follow these quick tips to make certain your charity us being fiscally and socially responsible, and that you know your money is going where you want it to. An informed decision is a wise decision. 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

trenchf00t December 02, 2012 at 08:58 PM
It really needn't be so complicated. I give to charities that I care about where I can see the actual result they generate. For example, you can watch Temecula Rescue Mission give out food and supplies every week. You can go see the horses Villa Chardonnay takes care of. You can go read Wikipedia. If you don't care about a cause and/or don't care about seeing results, you should not be giving, and you should probably give some serious thought to what is wrong with your life if no cause stirs a passion in you.
Andromeda December 03, 2012 at 03:26 AM
When I give a contribution to a needy family or homeless person(s) I see results immediately since the get ALL my donation (whether it's food, clothing or other items) without some middleman from a non-profit getting a cut of it. Instant satisfaction. You should try it sometime. You might like it!!!
trenchf00t December 03, 2012 at 03:41 PM
I like helping out, but I also like tax deductions, Andromeda! You can deduct donations to a qualified non-profit up to a portion of your gross income. This keeps money you would have lost anyway away from the government -- diverting capital away from the bottomless pit and into the coffers of those in need. Starve the beast until it starts using your money responsibly! A very worthy cause indeed, and you can kill two birds with one stone!
MFriedrich December 04, 2012 at 12:10 AM
As a general rule, I do not accept solicitations over the phone or door-to-door. I'm courteous about it, and give the reason that I simply cannot trust that the person is who they really say they are. I agree with above comments and prefer to take 100% ownership of my giving to reduce intermediaries of the benefits. My favorite is Doctors Without Borders.
Galactic Cannibal December 10, 2012 at 05:25 PM
You must be joking .. People scamming other people in the USA. in the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave" You must be joking ..That could never happen here "cause GOD is on our side. WOW I am so surprised to read this about scamming each other.

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