Every few months, I get a call from a friendly man who identifies himself as a volunteer with the local police department. He says he’s phoning on behalf of an organization sponsoring officers who mentor inner-city children. I usually give them a pledge and mail in my donation when they send the form.

I’m not familiar with the group. In fact, as I write this, I can’t even remember its exact name. But the caller is convincing, and it provides me with a quick, easy way to feel that I’ve helped others less fortunate.

Each year, 85 million households in America donate money to nonprofit organizations, with the majority of funds being given in December, according to a study conducted by Syracuse University

Though it wasn’t in the study, I’ll bet that a large percentage of the donations come from people like me — busy professionals who want to help, but don’t pay much attention to the actual organizations that receive their gifts.

But, for my part, that’s going to change. Each year, Americans donate billions of dollars to fraudulent charities, and money that’s solicited by telemarketers is one of the prime means by which these scams are perpetrated.

Over the years I’ve been at Pool & Spa News, I’ve noticed our industry is unusually generous when it comes to giving to others. So with the holidays here, I wanted to share some tips with you for making sure that your charity of choice is legit.

  • Be wary of pleas involving current events. It’s recommended that before donating money to the victims of a disaster, you carefully research the group that distributes the funds.
  • Check out the charity’s financial information. I found two Web sites that are particularly helpful in rating charities: www.guidestar.org and www.give.org.
  • Check with local organizations. If a charity tells you that your dollars will support a group such as a fire or police department, call over there to verify the claim.
  • Beware of similar-sounding names. The American Cancer Society is not the same as the American Cancer Association. Double-check to be sure you’re giving to the group of your choice.
  • Know the difference between “tax-exempt” and “tax-deductible.” Tax-exempt means the organization doesn’t have to pay taxes. Tax-deductible means you can deduct the contribution on your federal income tax return. Even if a group is tax-exempt, your contribution may not be tax-deductible.
  • Ask how your donation will be distributed. It’s important to know how much will go to direct aid vs. the charity’s administrative costs.

Charity is a wonderful opportunity to give to others, but the gift is useless if it ends up in the hands of greedy, unscrupulous individuals.

Erika Taylor
Erika Taylor