By Rick Garcia
This time of year, mailboxes and inboxes are filled with requests for charitable donations with the same message – financial support is needed now more than ever. But in these tough economic times, how can families ensure that their dollars will do the most good?
To assist donors in making these critical decisions, Michigan Nonprofit Association, Council of Michigan Foundations, United Way and the Michigan Attorney General have developed a guide “Giving Wisely This Holiday Season” to help donors make wise choices. The guide, available online at www.mnaonline.org/donor.asp, includes tips for choosing a charity, warning signs to watch for fraudulent groups, and tips for safely making a donation including online giving. Some tips include:
What are the organization’s purposes and programs? All charities have a mission and provide specific charitable programs and services to serve that mission. This information should be prominently featured in all of the group’s fundraising appeals.
How much of your donation will go towards programming rather than administrative and fundraising expenses? Charities use your donations not only to carry out their charitable programs, but also to pay for administrative costs and fundraising (You have the right to ask exactly how your funds will be used.)
Is the donation tax deductible? Only donations to 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations are deductible on the federal level. Be sure to ask if the organization has received this tax-exempt status from the IRS. For more information, visit www.irs.gov/charities.
Does the organization have measurable goals? Ask about the organization’s recent accomplishments and its future goals. Make sure they have a proven track record. You can review the organization’s finances nd operation on the IRS Form 990 by visiting www.guidestar.org. Visit or volunteer at a local charity to learn more about the effectiveness of their programs.
Is the organization licensed to solicit funds from the public? Under Michigan law, most charities must be licensed before they solicit funds. To find out if a charity is licensed, visit www.michigan.gov/ag and click on the Charities hotlink.
According to the Giving USA Foundation, two-thirds of charities receiving donations from the public reported a drop in 2011. While the amount given is in decline, nearly 90 percent of Michigan residents still gave to charities last year.
Donors are always encouraged to gather information about the organizations to which they contribute. If a donor is uncomfortable with information they find, the donor should seek clarification. The organization in question should always be given the opportunity to clarify issues.
Don’t just hand over money. Make your contribution by check payable to the organization (not an individual) so that you have a record of your donation and ask for and keep receipts from the organization indicating how much you donated, the date and its intended use. To avoid ID theft and fraud, use caution before giving credit card numbers over the phone or online. Ask the organization how it will use and safeguard your information.
Giving is a part of our culture. An informed donor makes giving more meaningful.
Rick Garcia, a nonprofit executive, a civil rights advocate, blogger and a contributing writer for The New Citizens Press can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This was published in the December 29, 2013 - January 11, 2014 edition.