Make a list, check it twice for charity credibility
Most people associate the holidays with giving, but some solicitors asking for donations on behalf of charities are only interested in taking the money of well-meaning North Carolinians.
Residents of the state donate more than $5 billion to charities each year, according to the NC Department of Justice, and many of those contributions occur around the holidays. Appeals issued through the mail, the internet, over the phone and in person increase during the holidays. A group of state and private agencies offers tips and resources for those interested in donating to local or national charities.
Both the NC Department of Justice and the Office of the Secretary of State regulate charitable solicitation. The Secretary of State operates a charitable solicitation office that licenses all solicitors representing organizations that raise more than $25,000 annually. Fraudulent charity groups come under the purview of the Justice Department, which represents consumers.
‘“You’ve got the secretary of state on the front end to get them set with the state,’” said William McKinney, an assistant public information officer for the Department of Justice. ‘“And you’ve got a [district attorney] on the back end if they’re bad.’”
In addition to state regulation, consumers can seek guidance from a local branch of the Better Business Bureau. The nonprofit offers seasonal guides to national charities, and concerns about local ones can be answered through the Greensboro branch. Those seeking more information about local charities can also visit the Charity Solicitation Licensing website through the Secretary of State.
‘“We sort of have a motto,’” said Pauline Morrison, president of the Greensboro Better Business Bureau. ‘“Give but give wisely. And give with your brain as well as your heart.’”
Morrison urges donors to resist appeals to give on the spot. Those with an interest in a particular charity should ask questions about how the money will be used and about the amount that funds actual programs as opposed to overhead cost. Willingness to answer questions is one sign that a charity is legitimate, Morrison said.
Consumers can find out if a national charity meets the voluntary standards set by the Better Business Bureau by visiting give.org. Another website, guidestar.com, displays several charities’ financial statements. Consumers using those resources can better guarantee that their money is funding charitable or educational programs.
Morrison warns people to be particularly wary of telemarketers who solicit on behalf of police or fire organizations. While some of these groups are legitimate, she said that police and fire departments are government agencies that cannot solicit donations. She also cautioned against groups with names that sound similar to a high profile charity.
Both Morrison and the Justice Department advise state residents to make donations by check written to the charity, not the solicitor. Donors will find it easier to keep track of check donations for tax purposes, and the mode of giving is more secure.
‘“We all generally have a threshold for the amount of money we give to charities,’” Morrison said. ‘“You don’t want to think that your dollars could have gone to a more legitimate charity.’”
To comment on this story, e-mail Amy Kingsley at firstname.lastname@example.org