Guidelines for Giving

woman moneyThere are thousands of charities out there, perhaps millions. Some may call you for donations and target your demographics for different reasons. Kris Hundley with Tampa Bay Times and Kendall Taggart with The Center for Investigative Reporting, are the creators of America’s Worst Charities. Here are some tips they offer to the public.

Before you give:

  • Ask if the caller is a paid telemarketer.
  • Get the exact name and location of the charity he or she represents.
  • Find out exactly where your donation will go. Don’t let them brush your questions off with generalities. They know the exact percentage. Make them tell you.
  • Ask for examples of the charity’s good deeds.
  • Call the local nonprofit that supposedly benefitted and ask if its ever heard of the charity that’s asking for your donation.
  • Cold-calling donors is one of the most expensive ways to raise money. Charities that use paid telemarketers often let the fundraisers keep 80 to 90 cents of every $1 raised.
  • Most of the money you think is going to needy veterans or dying kids is paying telemarketers’ overhead and profit.
  • Hang up and give directly. If you get a call and want to give, don’t hand over your credit card number or start writing a check.  A few quick Internet searches can uncover charities that have been criticized for high fundraising costs or unfulfilled promises.

The IRS also offers some tips worth mentioning:

  • Be wary of charities with names that are similar to familiar or nationally known  Some phony charities use names or websites that sound or look like those of respected, legitimate organizations.
  • Don’t give out personal financial information, such as Social Security numbers or passwords to anyone who solicits a contribution from you. Scam artists may use this information to steal your identity and money. People use credit card numbers to make legitimate donations but please be very careful when you are speaking with someone who called you.
  • Don’t give or send cash. For security and tax record purposes, contribute by check or credit card or another way that provides documentation of the gift.

To make it easier to decipher the good from the bad, you can find some reputable websites available to the public online. They are free. If you sense  something about a charity doesn’t sound right, you may want to follow those feelings and take a few minutes to research. Here are five recommended sites:

Charity Navigator (
This  website uses a four-star system to rate charities based on their financial performance and accountability. It also shows how the charity ranks compared to others doing similar work.

GuideStar (
Find a charity’s latest IRS 990 filing and read personal reviews on this website. Access to recent IRS documents is free with registration.

CharityWatch (
This site grades about 600 large charities based on the amount spent on programs and the cost to raise money. Though some information is available for free, more in-depth information requires a $50 membership.

Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance (…)
The Better Business Bureau rates 1,400 charities based on 20 benchmarks found in the IRS 990 and audit reports. All reports are available for free online, searchable by charity name.

State charity offices (…
The National Association of State Charity Officials lists the government agencies responsible for regulating charities and solicitors.

This article is not meant to dissuade anyone from giving generously. A compassion to help others magnifies the beauty in our human spirit. This is only meant to enable the public to make more informed decisions. These are great lists to keep handy and/or pass along. Being watchful will allow us to direct our donations to where we feel they can do the most good.

Very special thanks to Kendall Taggart with Tampa Bay Times, Kris Hundley with CIR/Center For Investigative Reporting, and Adrienne Hill with NPR.

Do you have a tip about a bad charity? The Tampa Bay Times and The Center for Investigative Reporting will continue to shine a light on bad charities. If you think you’ve been contacted by a suspect charity, share your story with them.

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