This holiday season, a word of caution from charity experts. If you're able to donate, make sure you do your homework, and make a plan for your money so that it supports a worthy cause.
Court documents from September detail a four-state investigation that shut down a sham charity, which, according to investigators, bilked consumers out of millions.
They claimed to use donations to help homeless veterans, breast cancer survivors, and disabled law enforcement. But the real people in need got next to nothing.
"The fraudsters out there are relying on your generosity your good wishes, the fact that you can’t say no when somebody says something like veterans or children or breast cancer- they want to tug on those heartstrings," said Yael Fuchs, President of the National Association of State Charity Officials (NASCO). "NASCO was formed so that state charity regulators can talk to each other, so that we can learn from each other, so that we can share tips and make sure that we are coordinating our enforcement efforts.”
They often work together to take down the bad guys.
And when they're not doing that, they're proactively following fundraising drives.
“Do we see exorbitant amounts of money going to professional fundraisers- do we see big upticks in the salaries that the leaders of the charity are making,” Fuchs said.
They look for ways in which people are being taken advantage of. So, how do you know who's good and who's not? Enter organizations like Charity Navigator.
“We’re a database with all of the registered nonprofits in the United States,” said Michael Thatcher, President, and CEO of Charity Navigator.
Thatcher says the company has grown to be the largest independent evaluator of nonprofits in the country. Basically, they give you all the tools you need to make the right decisions when it comes to donations.
“Never charge the donor for access to the information and never charge the charities to be evaluated so you eliminate any potential conflict of interest,” Thatcher said
If you're looking to give this year, he recommends focusing on how the organization is run, how they're making a difference in the world. Review their financial data, and ask questions - lots of questions.
"How have they pivoted around COVID and how have they stayed true to their mission and also stayed in business?" Thatcher added.
NASCO recommends you do extensive research. And be specific about the "cause" you want to support.
“Where is my money going- how will it be used? What we always want people to remember is you don’t want to give to a buzzword you’re not just giving to a cause you’re giving to a particular charity so you want to be able to trust that charity to understand what their programs are.”
The need will be big this year.
And donations will be unpredictable.
So, experts also say, make a plan, talk to your family, and give with intent so that your donation goes where it's supposed to.