This is the time of year when many of us are feeling the desire to be charitable with our fellow humans, perhaps even more than usual. While that is commendable in any season, it’s also important to be thoughtful and perceptive with our giving. A carefully considered strategy for charitable giving can assure you that your donations are going to the causes you care most about, those that are well aligned with your life priorities and core values. Such a plan can also help you avoid having your good intentions diverted to dishonest ends. As a wise teacher once said, we need to be “as shrewd as serpents and as harmless as doves.” In other words, it is possible to be both generous and judicious.
The Federal Trade Commission has some very useful advice to help you be both effective and smart with your giving. Here are some helpful tips.
1. Have a list of “pre-certified” charities.
Most of us have particular causes or entities we care about and want to support. It is certainly an option to limit your charitable giving to groups you are already familiar with. Declining to give to a new charity, even a worthy one, doesn’t make you a Scrooge; it just means you have already established giving priorities that match your interests.
2. Do some research.
The internet can be your friend. Get the name of the charity requesting your gift and do a Google search with the name of the charity and a word like “complaints.” If there have been scams operating in the name of the charity, you’re likely to get a hit that you can use to do a little more digging. Additionally, several groups provide online guides to legitimate charitable groups, including:
- The Better Business Bureau (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance
- American Institute of Philanthropy’s CharityWatch
These watchdog organizations can provide you not only with scam warnings but also with background information on legitimate charities you may be considering, including financial statements, percentage of gifts distributed, and other helpful information.
3. Be careful how you pay.
If the requestor pressures you for a cash payment or some kind of wire transfer, be wary. Payments by check or secure credit card transfer are accepted by any legitimate charity. If you have questions about whether a particular online giving portal is trustworthy, take some time to read the FTC’s informational article, “Donating through an Online Giving Portal.” Be sure to keep a receipt of all gifts and, if you do give via credit card, examine your statements to make sure the amount you were charged agrees with the amount you allocated.
4. Watch for scammers’ typical tricks.
Don’t let anyone pressure you into giving until you’ve received all the information you need. Listen for charity names that are close to—but not exactly the same as—well-known charities, such as “A Child’s Wish Foundation” instead of the legitimate group, Make a Wish Foundation (wish.org). If you receive an email or phone “thank you” for a donation you don’t remember making, along with a request for “another” gift, it’s probably a scam. If the requestor seems hesitant to provide contact information for the organization or to confirm basic information, such as what percentage of your gift will go directly to the charity, terminate the contact. Guaranteeing you entry into a sweepstakes in exchange for a gift is a sure sign of a scam, since FTC rules prohibit requiring a gift or purchase for entry in sweepstakes. Ultimately, if anything about the solicitation gives you pause or makes you uncomfortable, ask for a contact phone number or internet address, and then do your research. Legitimate charities will welcome the opportunity to gain your confidence, and scammers will run the other direction.
In this or any season, offering a gift to a worthy cause provides as much to the giver as it does to the recipient—if not more. So, by all means, allow your generosity to overflow, but be sure to exercise careful judgment. When you do, everyone wins.
Stay Diversified, Stay Your Course!