The holiday season brings out the spirit of giving, and we applaud any and all philanthropic efforts. Unfortunately there are some people who will try to take advantage of this generosity, and we want to make sure your contribution goes where you intend it to.
Here are some things to consider before making a donation:
- Is the charity legitimate? Check to see that the charity is registered with the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office Division of Non-Profit Organizations and Public Charities. You also can check out charities with the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance.
- How much of my donation goes to the charity, and how much goes to fundraising or management expenses? Sites like Charity Navigator are very helpful in showing you what percentage of your giving goes to support the mission of the nonprofit. You can also ask the organization what percentage of donations goes to actually support the programs in lieu of overhead and administrative costs. Be wary of a charity that says 100% of donations go to support the cause. After all, there has to be at least some overhead.
- Tax exempt or tax deductible? Tax exempt means the organization doesn’t have to pay taxes. Tax deductible means you can deduct your contribution on your federal income tax return.
It is also important to beware charity scams that may contact you asking for money. Here are some tips to help avoid being scammed:
- Never donate to a charity that you know nothing about, especially charities that pop up overnight in connection with a recent natural disaster or news story.
- Don’t feel pressured into giving on the spot or allowing someone to come to your house to pick up the contribution.
- If solicited in person, always ask to see the solicitor’s identification. Hang up the telephone on aggressive and harassing solicitors.
- Request written information about the charity, its mission, programs and finances, how your donation will be used, and proof that your contribution is tax deductible.
- Do not reveal your personal or financial information, including your Social Security number or credit card and bank account numbers, to anyone who solicits a contribution from you.
- Always write a check payable to the charity, not the individual soliciting you, so that you have a record of your donation.
Can’t give money? Time is just as, if not more, valuable. Find a local food pantry, soup kitchen, or children’s organization to volunteer. Don’t be surprised if you are turned away – many charities are overwhelmed with volunteers during the holiday season – but don’t give up either. Make note of the charity you like and offer to volunteer in January or February, once most people have changed their focus.
This post is part of our “Shopping 101” series, bringing you timely information as you shop this holiday season. For more information on your shopping rights, click here.
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