Each year, Americans give billions of dollars to charities. According to AARP research, adults age 65 and older receive more charitable solicitations than any other age group.
But before you reach for your checkbook or credit card, stop a moment to think. Are you sure you know exactly where your money is going and how it will be spent?
While it's good to give, it's just as important to give wisely. To help consumers make sure their giving counts, AARP has joined Secretary of State Sam Reed and Attorney General Rob McKenna to launch, "Operation Check Before You Give."
As part of the campaign, AARP Fraud Fighters are reaching out to thousands of Washington consumers with tips and tools about wise charitable giving. For your free copy of the "Check Before You Give" toolkit, fill out our online form, or contact the AARP Fraud Fighter Call Center toll-free at 1-800-646-2283.
Many Americans care deeply about others and want to do something good for those who are less fortunate, and there are many worthwhile charities that will put your money to good use. But with so many choices, it's difficult to determine where and how to give. So what can you do to make sure your charitable contributions are going to a good cause?
First, you should find out if the charity is registered with the state by calling the Secretary of State's Charities Hotline at 1-800-332-4483, or by searching online.
Next, find out how much of the money you give goes to the charitable purpose and how much goes to the cost of fundraising. Some charitable fundraisers keep over ninety-percent of the money they raise.
"Too often, money is misused or winds up in the pockets of fraudulent solicitors," says Reed. "No amount of enforcement can compare to the common sense and vigilance of consumers before they donate. Ask the tough questions."
Giving till it hurts
Unfortunately, con artists can try to take advantage of your generosity during the charitable giving season. "Nobody wants to give to a Grinch," says McKenna. "By checking out charities and donating to those you know and trust, you can better assure your money is being used how you intended."
Before opening up your heart and wallet, here are some other ways to be sure you're not handing your money over to a crook.
Be wary of appeals that tug at your heartstrings, especially pleas involving patriotism and current events.
Be alert for charities with names that closely resemble respected charities.
Ask for written information and materials to be mailed to you before you make a giving decision and take your time to make a decision about donating.
Discuss the donation with a trusted family member or friend before committing the funds.
Avoid cash gifts. They can be lost or stolen. For security and tax record purposes, it is best to pay by check, made payable to the charity, not the fundraiser.
Ask for a receipt showing the amount of the contribution and stating that it is tax deductible.
Many people develop their own "charity giving plan" - a set of charities they select after investigating them thoroughly. They decide how much and to whom they will give each year as part of the plan and then the rest of the year when other charities call or write, they say "no thank you." This strategy allows the givers to know where their money is going and to avoid being drawn in by a phony emotional appeal.
Federal Trade Commission: (877) 382-4357