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- I have decided to donate money to charity in other people’s names in lieu of gifts this holiday season. How can I make sure my money is going to a good place?
A: It is always a good idea to ask questions and find out where your donation will be going. If you are planning on making a donation to a charity, find out first how it will use your donation. Find out what percentage of your donation a fund-raiser may take and what percentage the charity will spend on actual program services. You should review written materials from the charity or check its website to see if it is doing what you would expect. You can also see if it has registered and filed financial information with the Public Charities Division of the Attorney General’s Office.
- I was solicited on the phone for a charitable contribution. I checked out the organization and learned that 85% of my donation will go to the professional fundraiser. Is this legal?
A: Yes, this is a legal arrangement. The Supreme Court has ruled that States cannot tell charities how much they can spend on fundraising. Even though it is legal, we find that most donors prefer to see a better return on their charitable donations than a mere 15% going to the charitable organization. If you are planning on making a donation to a charity, find out first how it will use your donation. Find out what percentage of your donation the fundraiser will take and what percentage the charity will be spent on program services.
- I have already signed up for the Massachusetts Do Not Call list, and I am still receiving calls from someone claiming to be from the "Police League" trying to collect money from me. What is going on with this?
A: First of all, charitable organizations are listed as one of the exceptions to the Do Not Call law, so they may still make calls to you under the new law. You may have, however, stumbled upon another important issue. Recently, Attorney General Reilly's Office filed suit against the American Police Officers' Association for violations of the state's laws concerning fund-raising for charitable organizations. While donating to charities is often a commendable and worthwhile choice, consumers should be aware that there are scam artists out there who will often take advantage of people's good nature.
Whenever you receive a solicitation for a charitable organization, you should:
- Ask for the name of the charity if the telemarketer does not provide it promptly.
- Ask whether the caller is a paid solicitor employed by a professional fundraiser.
- Ask what percentage of the donation is used to support the causes of the charity, and what percentage is used for administrative costs and fund-raising efforts.
- Ask to send the donation directly to the local police, fire department or other charitable cause.
- Avoid cash gifts. Cash can be easily lost or stolen. For security and tax record purposes, it is best to pay by check, made payable to the beneficiary, not the solicitor.
You can always report suspicious solicitations or charity, or the agency collecting for a charity, is registered and in compliance with Massachusetts state laws and regulations by calling AG Reilly's Public Charities Division at (617) 727-2200.
- I just received a call from someone claiming to be from the Boston Police, collecting donations for the Make-a-Wish Foundation. I know that this is not too odd in itself, but when I started asking questions, I became a bit suspicious. How can I make sure whether this is legitimate or not?
A: First of all, it is good that you began by asking questions. If you are not comfortable with the answers you are getting, you may wish to consider donating to another charity which gives you satisfactory answers to your questions. This is especially true when the organization contacts you, as opposed to you reaching out to the charity. Keep in mind, too, that most charitable organizations, and those who solicit for them, must register with the Public Charities Division of the Attorney General's Office. So whenever you have questions about the legitimacy of a charity or those collecting for them, contact our office to make sure they are properly registered. To do this, or for other questions about charitable organizations, please contact the Public Charities Division at (617) 727-2200 ext. 2101.
- I am considering donating my vehicle to a local charitable organization, but I have heard so much lately about problems with charities that I am a little unsure. How can I feel comfortable about doing this?
A: Most important, Kerry, you want to ask a lot of questions of the charity you are considering giving to. Ask about the mission of the charity, whether your donation will go to a specific program or into a general fund, and whether the donations are split with a for- profit organization. Do not donate to any organizations that avoid talking about their purpose or refuse to send you information about their organization. You can also contact Attorney General Reilly's Public Charities Division to see if the organization is registered as a charity.
After you decide on an organization their organization, be sure to keep detailed personal records of all of your donations, including information on the organization itself and the value of your donation. Finally, be sure to obtain written verification of your donation from the charitable organization, which you will also need if you claim the deduction on your tax returns.
If you have any questions about a charitable institution, contact Attorney General Reilly's Office Public Charities Division at (617) 727-2200 ext. 2101.
- There seems to be a lot of fundraising on the Internet to help with relief efforts in New York City, Washington, and Pennsylvania. Is it safe to donate money online?
A: It's a great idea to give to charities and relief funds in light of the horrific events of September 11th, but consumers do need to be careful and make sure that they are giving to a legitimate organization, whether on or offline. Before making a donation on the Internet, check out the organization first, ask questions about how your money will be used, and make sure their Web site has clear information about how they will protect the security of your credit card information. Never, ever respond to any e-mail asking for donations, since you cannot be sure who is sending that message. And please be aware that, unfortunate as it is, any tragedy will result in some phony fundraising schemes. Call the AG's Public Charities Division at (617) 727-2200 x 2101, with any questions about fundraising, and please report any suspicious e-mails or Web sites that you come across to our Consumer Complaint Hotline at (617) 727-8400 .
- It seems like everybody is out collecting to benefit victims of the disaster on September 11th. How can I be sure that my donation will end up helping?
A: The best way to be sure that your donation will help is to give only to charities that you are familiar with. Never give to a charity that you are unsure of, or whose work you know nothing about. Do not pay with cash. Pay by check, and make it out to the charity only. Never give your credit card number to a fundraiser over the telephone. Be sure that your donation is tax-deductible. If you are contributing over the Internet, check to see if the site is secure and will offer protection for your credit card number.
The White House has set up a Web page which links to many of the national charities that are working to help. That site is www.libertyunites.org.
There are Web sites that have information about other charities: www.guidestar.org (a national database of non-profit organizations) and www.irs.ustreas.gov (Internal Revenue Service).
And you can always get information from the Attorney General's Office Division of Public Charities. Our phone number is (617) 727-2200 x 2101.
- Is it safe to contribute to cannister solicitations?
A: Cannister solicitations may seem a quick and easy way to contribute, but cash donations into a cannister are difficult to account for. Furthermore, you have no way of knowing how much of your donation is kept by the person with the cannister. To make sure that your donation is really going to help, you are better served by donating directly to the charity itself with a personal check, online through the charity's Web site, or at www.helping.org.
- How can I determine whether a charity is legitimate?
A: The best way to determine if a charity is legitimate is to educate yourself about the organization. Ask the organization for written materials, and about how it uses donated funds to further its mission. You can call the Attorney General's Division of Public Charities at (617) 727-2200 x 2101, and our staff can inform you if an organization is in compliance with the laws of Massachusetts and authorized to solicit funds. You can also visit the Division of Public Charities on the fourteenth floor of One Ashburton Place in Boston where, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., files on over 40,000 charities are available for inspection and copying.