Making a donation to a charity or non-profit can be a great way to give back to your community.
But some of the people who claim to raise money for charities may try to take advantage of your generosity. Some scammers try to get your money by pretending to help victims of recent disasters. Find out how to spot and avoid charity scams.
Before you decide to give to any charity, take the time to learn where your money will go and how it will help. Read our tips below to learn how to give wisely when you contribute to charity.
Giving to Charity
We are proud that so many people in our state give so much of their time and money to help others. North Carolinians contribute billions of dollars to charity each year, and volunteer countless hours in their communities. We want to encourage you to give to those in need, but we want to make sure your contributions are used as you intend them to be. Learn how to avoid charity scams that may play on your sympathies, and how to check out charities. The best way to make sure your donations are used wisely is to do your homework before you give.
Decide who you want to give to.
Instead of responding to solicitations to make a donation, especially from telemarketers who may keep as much as 90 percent of the money they collect, decide which charities you want to support and contact them directly.
Give to charities you know.
If you’ve helped out as a volunteer, seen the organization’s work in your community or checked out its track record, you’ll have a better sense of how it operates and how your donation will help.
Check out charities.
Visit www.give.org to see if national charities meet the standards set by the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance, and www.charitywatch.org for ratings of charities by the American Institute of Philanthropy. Other good sources of information are www.guidestar.org and www.charitynavigator.org.
Find out whether charities are licensed to solicit contributions in North Carolina.
Many charities that solicit in our state are required by law to register with the N.C. Secretary of State. You can call that office toll free at (888) 830‑4989 or check out a charity or fundraiser on its website. The license application provided during the registration process should give you information about the charity’s finances and operations.
Ask for written information.
If a charity asks you for a donation, ask for the charity’s name, address, and telephone number, and ask the charity to provide you with written information about its mission and what your donation will help them do.
Learn how your money will be used.
Many charities hire professional fundraisers, private companies that sometimes keep a large percentage of the money raised for themselves. Ask how much of your donation will go to the worthy cause instead of to pay for fundraising, then check out the charity’s financial statement from the NC Secretary of State’s Office, or visit www.guidestar.org.
Know the law.
There’s no legal minimum amount that a professional fundraiser has to give to the charity on whose behalf it raises money, or that a charity has to use for actual good works as opposed to other expenses. But professional fundraisers do have to report the percentage of money they raise that goes to charity, and charities have to report what they spend on charitable works versus expenses on their 990 tax form. You can get this information from the NC Secretary of State’s Charitable Solicitation Licensing Division.
Check to see if your donation is tax deductible.
Not all contributions to non‑profits are tax deductible. Some gifts that appear to be for charity actually benefit for-profit companies. Check it out before you decide to give. The IRS maintains a searchable list of tax exempt nonprofits.
Pay by credit card or check.
Don’t give cash–cash gifts can be lost or stolen. For security and tax record purposes, it’s best to pay by credit card. If you pay by check, make it out to the charity itself, not the fundraiser.
Protect your personal information.
Don’t share personal financial information by email, social network or text message. If you donate online, use a secure website. Look for a lock icon and a web address that starts with “https”.
Watch out for pushy telemarketers.
Telemarketers that refuse to answer your questions, offer to pick up your donation or pressure you are usually up to no good. Also, some telemarketers keep up to 90 percent of the money they collect for charities. Your money will go further if you give directly to the real charity, not to hired fundraisers.
Don’t respond to unsolicited emails and text messages asking you to give.
Even if the message looks legitimate, it could be an example of phishing. The messages may include links to copycat web sites of legitimate charities to try to trick donors.
Be careful of social networking posts asking you to donate.
The cause may sound worthy, but you have no way of verifying how your money would really be used.
Watch out for fake charities that sound real.
Some scammers use names that are very close to the names of real charities, non-profits or even law enforcement agencies. If you want to donate, contact the real charity or organization at a website or phone number you know to be valid.
Be skeptical if someone thanks you for a pledge or donation you don’t remember.
If you have any doubt, check your records. Be on the alert for invoices claiming you have made a pledge when you know you haven’t.
Say no to high-pressure appeals.
Legitimate fundraisers won’t push you to give on the spot.
We Can Help
If you have a complaint about a charity scam, contact us for help or call toll free within North Carolina at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM.