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Blog: Minimizing Financial Clutter
Rascals and Scoundrels and Thieves, Oh My! - Defensive Strategies for Charitable Giving

Today marks the first day of Advent, the beginning of the Christian year, and the start of the holiday season for people of many faiths. As the Sunday newspaper becomes even more stuffed with ads for gift-giving ideas for our loved ones (and maybe for ourselves!), our mailboxes and e-mail boxes also become stuffed with end-of-year requests for donations to "worthy" causes.  Sometimes we even get phone calls asking for donations.
I am certainly not discouraging you from charitable giving.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  However, I warn you to be careful about falling victim to potential con artists posing as charities and to wasting your hard-earned money.  Here are some situations that should prompt you to ask some questions before you open your wallet:
Telephone Solicitations
Did you know that charities sometimes use some of the money you've given them to hire paid solicitors to call you to ask you for more money?  That doesn't seem like a very good use of your contribution, now does it?
Defensive Strategies:
  • Do you have a prior relationship with the organization that's calling?  For example, colleges frequently call alumni to request a donation to the annual fund.  If you don't have such a relationship, you need to either hang up or ask some questions.
  • Ask if the caller is a paid solicitor.  If so, ask to receive a written solicitation in the mail.  If you choose to make a contribution, more of your money will go to the actual programs of the charity if you donate directly.
  • NEVER give your credit card number over the phone if you did not initiate the call.
  • Do not give in to pressure tactics, including the caller trying to make you feel guilty or saying that you've donated to them in the past.  You are not being rude if you hang up on such a caller.  If you're not sure whether or not you've donated in the past, hang up and look at your old check register or credit card statements.
Written Solicitations
OK, you've received a nice letter and an envelope in the mail.  It seems a like good cause, and it sure looks like they need your money.  As Ronald Reagan once said, trust but verify.
Defensive Strategies:
  • Many charity names sound very similar.  Make sure your money goes where you think it's going.  The website www.charitynavigator.org is an independent charity evaluator.  If you're not sure about a particular charity, check it out on the website.
  • Verify the percentage of your contribution that will actually go directly to the programs or services the organization provides, versus to administrative costs.  At least 75% of your dollars should benefit the charity's recipients and not to paid staff.  You can request a copy of their annual report or their IRS Form 990 (tax return).
  • Before you donate, make sure the organization is really a 501(c)(3) organization.  That is the section of the IRS tax code that permits your contribution to be tax deductible.  You can request a copy of the charity's IRS Form 1023 (tax exemption application).  Contributions to professional organizations and political action committees (PACs), for example, are not tax deductible.
  • Verify the organization's privacy policy.  Do they promise not to give or sell your name to other charities?  If not, request it in writing when you make your donation.
Online Solicitations
If you're reading this blog, no doubt that at some time you'll also be reading an e-mail solicitation for money.  Be very cautious here.  Con artists love the Internet because they can trick you much more easily than they can over the phone or in-person:
Defensive Strategies:
  • Unless it comes from a specific person whom you know, NEVER answer an un-solicited e-mail requesting money.  DELETE, DELETE, DELETE!
  • Don't fall victim to individuals claiming to be victims of some sort of disaster.  Always go to the charity's website and check out the charity's reputation at www.charitynavigator.org. 
  • Charities don't need to know your date of birth or your Social Security number so don't give them to them ever.
  • Rather than responding directly to an e-mail request for a contribution, visit the charity's actual website.  Before entering your credit card information, make sure you are at a secure site.  (A secure website begins with https; make sure it has the "s".)

Next Week:  Organized Christmas Shopping!

posted on: 12/2/2007 11:30:00 AM by Katherine Trezise
category: Finances

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Discuss This Post

by Zyah on 5/3/2011 2:27:55 AM:

Thank God! Someone with brains spekas!

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Minimizing Financial Clutter

by Katherine Trezise

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About Katherine:

Katherine Trezise is president of Absolutely Organized, based in Baltimore, MD. She is president-elect of the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization. Katherine holds a masters degree in business administration, is a Certified Professional Organizer® and a Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization®. Absolutely Organized specializes in helping people organize their homes, paperwork and financial records to make room in their lives for the things, people and activities that are most important to them.

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