By Paul Downey
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 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, total giving to charitable organizations was $410 billion in 2017 — 2.1 percent of GDP — and nearly half of the 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?
All too often, con artists use the holiday season to take advantage of the generosity of San Diegans and steal your hard-earned money for themselves, rather than for reputable and legitimate non-profit organizations serving the most vulnerable in our community.
Here are four quick tips to help you chose a legitimate organization and avoid being scammed:
1. Only give to a charity you know and do you 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, the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance, Guidestar and Charity Navigator. Plus, go to the organization’s website and social media channels 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 their current federal Form 990 tax return. If they cannot give you this information, don’t give them your money.
3. Do not send to a post office box. Ask for a tour! Make sure the organization has a physical street address, where you can go and see the charity in action at any time. Or even better, just show up unannounced. A reputable charity would be delighted to give you a tour on the spot.
4. There should be no hard sell. Don’t feel the need to give into pressure. 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 Serving Seniors, 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 including at 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, be sure to follow these quick tips to make certain your charity is 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.
For more nearly two decades, Paul Downey has been a national advocate for low-income seniors as well as the president and CEO of Serving Seniors, a nonprofit agency dedicated for more than 45 years to increasing the quality of life for San Diego seniors living in poverty. Learn more at www.servingseniors.org.
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