Avoiding Charity Scams

December 15, 2010

Whether you're giving money, canned goods, used items or your time, BBB reminds donors that how you give is just as important as what you give.

According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, charitable donations to the largest charities were down 11 percent last year. Despite the tough economy and the overall decline in giving, donors are still looking for ways to help the less fortunate particularly around the holidays. According to the Salvation Army, red kettle donations in November and December of 2009 actually increased by $9 million over the previous year.

"Despite the downturn in the economy, people are still looking for creative or small ways that they can give back and support those who are even less fortunate over the holidays," said Steve J. Bernas, President and CEO of the Better Business Bureau. "However you decide to give, it's important to stop and take the time to research the charity thoroughly to make sure that your dollar stretches the farthest it can in this tough economy."

How you give-and not just what you give-to a charity matters.

Following are five common ways that people donate to charities over the holidays and a few things to consider:

Give items - Many organizations solicit for donations over the holidays including coats, toys, and canned goods. Whatever you're donating, make sure the items are of good condition and that the recipient charity is accepting such items to help further its cause.

Give when you shop - Many charities have had great success partnering with businesses who agree to donate some amount of the purchase price from sales of items to a worthy cause. This type of cause-related marketing means that you can help while you shop. Check if the promotion identifies the actual or anticipated amount of the purchase price the charity will receive. Also some businesses, like grocery stores, ask if you want to donate to a charity and have that amount added to your receipt which is called embedded giving. See if the embedded promotion states which specific charity will receive the collected funds.

Give online - Giving online with a credit or debit card is among the most efficient ways to support a charity. Before you enter in your numbers, give the website a thorough review and look for the organization's privacy policy, and verify if the organization has appropriate security measures in place to protect such transactions.

Give through text messaging - The option to give via text message took off in the wake of the disastrous earthquake in Haiti. After texting a message to a number, the donation is tacked on to your cell phone bill. While donating via text is fast and easy for the donor, the actual money can take months to reach the charity so consider donating directly to a charity through its website if there is an urgent need.

Give your time - In today's tight economy, you may not have money, but you can always give a little bit of your time to help support a worthy cause. In addition to volunteering around the holidays, you can also be a vocal supporter of a charity and help raise awareness among friends and family and on your Facebook page or blog.

The BBB Wise Giving Alliance reports on more than 1,200 national charitable organizations at www.bbb.org/charity and determines if they meet 20 accountability standards addressing governance, finances and fund raising practices.

To review charity evaluations and get more advice on how to give when times are tight, visit www.bbb.org/charity


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