Give, but give wisely during the holidays
by Teresa S. Maher
At the end of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, even that old miser Ebenezer Scrooge found his giving spirit.
Giving to a favorite cause can put you in the holiday spirit, too, and many charities hope you will add them to your gift list.
However, there are some unethical groups that may try to cash in on your generosity to benefit their own pocketbooks.
Charity appeals may come in the mail, by phone, or in person. The Better Business Bureau offers the following do's and don'ts to help you make wise giving decisions.
A charity report from the BBB can tell you how long the charity has been in operation, if they received complaints in the past, and how they responded to the complaints. It also can tell you how much of the charity's income goes to the actual cause.
- Do not feel pressured to give money on the spot. A charity that can use your money today will welcome it just as much tomorrow.
- Do seek out additional facts. If you receive a telephone appeal from an unfamiliar charity, ask the solicitor to mail you a copy of the charity's latest annual report and financial statement. Even a newly-established charity should be able to provide a program brochure and a budget plan for collected funds.
- Do ask how much of the charity's income is spent on its programs, as opposed to fundraising and administrative expenses. If you receive the solicitation by phone, take advantage of the situation by asking the caller for information you might not normally receive in a written appeal.
- Do not purchase any item on behalf of a charity, such as a box of candy or wrapping paper, and assume that the full price will benefit the charity. You need to ask what portion of the purchase the charity will receive.
- Do not fall prey to fraudulent phone appeals that include chances to enter a sweepstakes, especially if the solicitor asks for a donation to claim a prize. Requiring a contribution makes the sweepstakes an illegal lottery.
- Do not give out your credit card or bank account numbers over the phone or send cards through the mail or via courier. Send a check made payable to the full official name of the charitable organization.
- And finally, do check the charity out with the Better Business Bureau before you drop that change in the bucket or write that check.
Teresa S. Maher is the Director of Communications for the Better Business Bureau of Western Washington (BBB).