By Paul Downey
The air is chilly. You’re humming holiday songs. You’re calculating how much vacation time you’ve accrued. The holiday season has arrived!
Amid the festivities, it’s time to decide on end-of-year donations. But in today’s segmented world, with countless charities for every cause, how do you pick the right one? For starters, look for groups with strong leadership who operate by a mission that matches your passions or beliefs, and of course, make sure your charity of choice is fiscally responsible, ethical and effective.
How do you know if your charity of choice is effective? Ideally, 85 cents of every dollar raised should go directly to programs and services of the charitable organization. Review the organization’s administrative costs and make sure you’re comfortable with what they spend on operational expenses, salaries and fundraising.
Here are 10 additional tips for smart holiday giving:
Verify that the charity is legitimate. Identify the correct name of the charity; many scammers establish fake charities with names that sound similar to real organizations’ names. Consult the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator and GuideStar. Also look for audits, annual reports and 990 tax forms on the charity’s website.
Ask for a tour. A reputable charity will happily show you around and answer your questions.
Sign up for updates informing donors of how gifts were used and what outcomes were achieved with the donated funds.
Protect your bank account and social security numbers. Charities don’t need this information to process your gift.
Take immediate action if you suspect you’ve been affected by fraud. Call your bank and credit card companies and freeze your accounts. They’ll work with you to resolve your situation.
Donate in response to a hard sell. Don’t respond to anyone who says you “must” donate today or offers to pick up a check. A reputable charity will accept a gift today, next week, next month or even next year, and won’t pressure you.
Make an online donation using a public wireless network. Use a password-protected network and verify that the donation page is secure: look for “https” in the URL and trust seals on the page. Before entering any personal info, double check that you’ve typed the URL correctly. If you click on an email link from a trusted sender, double check that you’ve arrived at the organization’s real website.
Use your debit card, send cash or wire funds. If fraud is committed against your credit card, you can dispute the charges. If fraud is committed against your debit card, the funds are much harder to retrieve.
Give to “pop up” charities. Don’t respond to on-the-spot donation requests from people in front of stores, even if they tell you that you’re helping people affected by natural disasters or recent tragedies. If the cause piques your interest, do some research. If the charity is legitimate, you’ll be able to mail a check or donate securely online.
Give any personal info over the phone or to door-to-door solicitors. Caller identification is easy for scammers to fake; even if they appear to be calling from a real charity, it’s not necessarily true. As with “pop up” charities, if the organization sounds like one you’d like to support, do some research first.
You have a finite amount of hard-earned dollars that you can afford to donate, and you want those dollars to make the greatest impact possible. Trust your instincts and don’t be afraid to ask for clarification on statistics, details on tangible impacts and client stories or testimonials. Even if privacy or anonymity must be maintained, a reputable charity will have anecdotes that are “safe” for sharing.
Bottom line: you’re giving away your hard-earned money for something you believe in. You decide where and when it goes. Charities that are worth donating to respect and appreciate this, and will respect and appreciate you.
— For more than 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 servingseniors.org.