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Charities – Give, But Give Wisely

Each year, Americans give billions of dollars to charities - and with today’s sluggish economy, uncertain job market and rising prices, people are in need like never before. But before we open our hearts and our wallets, it’s important to make sure our donations have the greatest impact on the charities we choose.

According to AARP research, adults age 65 and older receive more charitable solicitations than any other age group. Solicitors may come door-to-door, stand on street corners or in shopping malls, advertise in newspapers or on the radio, send letters or emails, or call on the phone. You may feel pressured to give money on the spot, before you have a chance to think. But 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 have kicked off a statewide calling blitz to educate Washington residents about wise charitable giving. The center plans on calling more than 5,000 Washington residents in the coming weeks.

View a short video of the press conference launch, as well as the release of the Secretary of State’s new charitable fundraising report. Media coverage of the event also appeared on TV, print and radio statewide, including the Seattle PI, KPLU radio and the Washington News Service.

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.

Next, find out how much of the money you give goes to the charitable purpose and how much goes to the cost of fundraising. Commercial fundraisers, who can range from telemarketers to mail distributors, collect money on behalf of a variety of groups, like shelters and aid programs. According to reports from the Secretary of State’s Office, the cut these fundraisers keep and the amount they return to charity can vary widely, from 100 percent to nothing at all.

Giving till it hurts

Unfortunately, con artists can try to take advantage of your generosity during the charitable giving season. Most charities are accountable to their donors, but some Grinches are more interested in helping themselves to your cash than helping others.

Before opening your 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.

If you’d like more information, order a free “Check Before You Give” packet, chock full of information on safe and wise giving. Call the AARP Fraud Fighter Call Center to order at 1-800-646-2283 or send an email to with your name, address and phone number.

You can also download and listen to a special podcast of a recent AARP telephone town hall event with Secretary of State Sam Reed and Attorney General Rob McKenna.  More than 11,000 AARP members in Washington participated in the call to ask their own questions about wise charitable giving. 

And for more, check out the following resources:

Washington Secretary of State

Washington State Office of the Attorney General

Federal Trade Commission

Better Business Bureau

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