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End-of-year giving: selecting a charity and avoid being scammed

Often during this time of year, con artists take advantage of the generosity of San Diegans and take the hard-earned money for themselves.
Photo credit:
National Council on Aging

Giving to a charity each year is easy for most of us. We find ourselves drawn to a cause, a particular group, mission and well we just plain want to help those who may be less fortunate than ourselves. When you have a personal tie to an organization, giving your hard-earned dollars is simple.

However, what happens when you don’t have a charity in mind or you are new to donating financially?

Often during this time of year, con artists take advantage of the generosity of San Diegans and take the hard-earned money for themselves, rather than for reputable and legitimate non-profit organizations that serve the most vulnerable in our community.

Here are seven quick tips to help you chose a legitimate organization and avoid being scammed:

  1. Only give to a charity you know.
  2. Do your research! Research an organization before you donate. There are a variety of online resources that provide free access to comprehensive reports about non-profit organizations. Start with a visit to California Attorney General's Registry of Charitable Trusts (www.oag.ca.gov/charities), the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance (www.give.org), Guidestar (www.guidestar.com) and Charity Navigator (www.charitynavigator.org). Plus, go to the organization’s website and really get a good understanding of what the charity does and who benefits from your donation.
  3. Ask questions. Real charities are able to tell you how they use their donations and what portion of your contribution will go directly to the group they are trying to help. Ideally, 85 cents of every dollar raised should go directly to programs and services of the charitable organization, with the minimal amount remaining to underwrite administrative salaries and operational expenses. Also, ask them for a 990 tax form.
  4. If they cannot give you this information, don’t give them your money.
  5. Do not send to a P.O. Box. Make sure the organization has an actual street address, where you can go and see the charity in action at anytime.
  6. Ask for a tour. Or even better just show up unannounced. A reputable charity would be delighted to give you a tour on the spot.
  7. There should be no hard sell.  Organizations don’t need money “today.” If they cannot give you an answer for what the donation is to be used for then walk away.
  8. Leverage your contribution.  Often times, reputable organizations will have donors who will match your contribution during their fundraising campaigns. The commitment by donors to their preferred organization shows credibility.  For example, right now at Serving Seniors, thanks to a generous long-time donor, financial donations made during our “Hidden Hungry” campaign will be matched dollar for dollar up to $50,000.

There are many fine charities in San Diego doing great that are worthy of your support. By following the tips above, you will sleep soundly knowing that your time and dollars are being spent well.  

As President/CEO of Serving Seniors, I would like to thank all of you who have graciously supported us in 2016.

We appreciate your kindness and generosity, and have been able to accomplish so much this year with your help. For those of you who haven’t made a gift yet, please “kick our tires,” and connect with us to see what we are all about.

Paul Downey is the president and CEO of Serving Seniors, a nonprofit agency dedicated to keeping San Diego seniors healthy and independent. Learn more at www.servingseniors.org.