Cue the violins: This charity wants my money to help homeless veterans. That one needs it for the museum expansion. This other one will buy toys for needy children, or protect the First Amendment, or fund scholarships at my alma mater ….
Happy Giving Tuesday! Charities are in high gear this time of year — as are scammers hoping to profit by appealing to your better angels. Here’s how to be generous this holiday season without becoming a sucker.
First, be deliberate. It can be fun to spontaneously stuff a few bucks in the kettle as you leave the grocery store, but make your bigger gifts with forethought. What missions are most important to you this year? Helping animals, or homelessness, or kids? Maybe you want to take a stand against gun violence, or for the Second Amendment, or for refugees. Whatever it is, once you decide, it’s time to …
Take an hour to do a wee bit of research. Stop griping — it’s really easy and should be mandatory before giving anything to anyone. You can find out which charities are best at your passion projects — music, art, helping the homeless, veterans, animals, kids — on websites like Charity Navigator and Guidestar. See how much the charity spends on its main mission vs. how much it pays employees and for fundraising itself. Some of the worst give just pennies on the dollar to whoever they claim to help. Don’t be a dolt! If the charity seeking your dollars devotes less than 75 percent of spending to core programs and services, look elsewhere. WalletHub lists some high-performing charities by categories at https://wallethub.com/edu/best-charities-to-donate-to/28658.
Make sure the charity is really a charity! Donations are only tax-deductible if you give to an organization with nonprofit status from the Internal Revenue Service. Check that out here: https://apps.irs.gov/app/eos/. Also see California’s Registry of Charitable Trusts at https://bit.ly/3oTLYCI.
Resist pressure. That lovely gentleman wants to sign you up for recurring donations to that great-sounding charity right now because he gets paid for that. Take your time! Ask for information in writing about its programs and finances. Confirm its name, address and nonprofit status. Be wary of pushy telemarketers soliciting donations as well: These are most often commercial fundraisers who keep a huge chunk of your donation, and sometimes keep nearly all of it.
Don’t be bamboozled. Be especially wary of familiar-sounding charity names that purport to benefit veterans, firefighters and police officers — scammers know folks want to support those organizations and riff on names — as well as disaster fundraisers. Do your research before opening your checkbook! If someone thanks you for a donation you don’t recall making and says they hope you give again, be on the alert: It’s a time-honored scam. If someone says it’s vital for you to give immediately and even offers to come pick up a donation, find out exactly who they are, hang up, and contact authorities!
Be careful of social network fundraising. So-and-so’s parents died in a tragic accident, and she lost her job, now her emotional support dog needs an operation. If a post grabs your heart, ask some extra questions. Also find out if you’ll pay a fee for the convenience of donating online.
Protect your identity. Never give your Social Security number or other personal information to a charity or fundraiser. Never share credit card information with an unfamiliar, unvetted organization.
A woman puts money into a red Salvation Army kettle. (File photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)
The best way to donate: Give online directly to a charity you’ve vetted! No middlemen. No fees.
And a bit of trivia: Giving Tuesday began a decade ago in response to post-Thanksgiving commercialization and consumerism (Black Friday), after a Chicago theater company urged Cyber Monday shoppers to consider donating to charity. “Giving Tuesday” was coined by the 92nd Street Y, in partnership with the United Nations Foundation, in 2012. And here we are! Revel in the joy of wise giving this holiday season.
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