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Attorney General Kamala D. Harris Issues Consumer Tips on Donating Wisely this Holiday Season

Monday, November 30, 2015
Contact: (415) 703-5837, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

En Español 

SAN FRANCISCO – With the holiday season and the end of the tax year approaching, Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today issued consumer tips on how Californians can make the most of their charitable giving and avoid scams.

In 2014, Americans gave more than $350 billion to charities and nonprofit organizations. This year, many Californians will look to help the less fortunate or support a favorite cause by donating to a charity. Unfortunately, with so much money in play, scammers will continue to look for ways to prey on people’s generosity. Attorney General Kamala D. Harris offers the following tips for Californians to make sure their charitable giving will benefit worthy causes and not scammers.

TIPS FOR DONATING WISELY

Research the Charity

The number one tip for consumers this holiday season is to research the charity you are considering donating to and make sure it is legitimate and trustworthy. Don’t assume that charity recommendations on Facebook, blogs, or other social media are legitimate.

Private watchdog organizations have created spending standards for charities and issued reports based on those standards. These are great resources for consumers to use in researching your intended charities. Three such organizations are: Wise Giving Alliance (www.give.org), Council of Better Business Bureaus’ Foundation (www.bbb.org), and American Institute of Philanthropy (www.charitywatch.org).

To check the status of a charity, visit http://rct.doj.ca.gov/Verification/. Other sites that can provide helpful information in checking the status of your charity are: www.charitynavigator.org, or www.give.org. For more detailed information and tips, check the Attorney General’s Guide to Charitable Giving for Donors at: http://oag.ca.gov/charities/publications.

If a solicitor contacts you on behalf of a charity, ask if he or she works for a commercial fundraiser, and verify whether that the commercial fundraiser is registered with the Attorney General’s Registry of Charitable Trusts, as it is unlawful for unregistered commercial fundraisers to solicit donors in California. You can also check to see how much a commercial fundraiser raised for the charity in the past by reviewing the Attorney General’s Commercial Fundraising Reports, which summarize by year the results of the charitable solicitation campaigns conducted in California by for-profit fundraisers. Historical figures show that a solicitation campaign conducted by a commercial fundraiser returns to the charity, on average, about 50 percent or less of the contributions received. A commercial fundraiser retains the remainder in the form of fees and expense reimbursements. To check these publications visit: http://oag.ca.gov/charities/publications

Other Helpful Tips for Donors

  • A great way for donors to select worthwhile charities is to first volunteer with a local charity. This helps provide first-hand knowledge about programs that benefit your community or cause.
  • You may want your donation used for a specific program or purpose within a charity. If a website has a “donate” button, check to see if you can designate a specific purpose for your donation. If you can’t, contact the charity to be sure your donation will be spent for the purpose you intend.
  • If a solicitor contacts you on behalf of a charity, ask if he or she works for a commercial fundraiser, whether they are registered with the California Registry of Charitable Trusts, and ask what percentage of donations go directly to the charity for its charitable program and how much is spent on fundraising and administrative expenses. You may prefer to contact the charity directly to make a secure donation. If a solicitor tells you the donation is for your local police, firefighter, or other public safety agency, check directly with the law enforcement agency to avoid a potential scam. 
  • If you receive an e-mail or text message asking for a donation to a charity, contact the charity directly and confirm that the request is legitimate.
  • Make charitable contributions directly on a charity’s website when possible. If donating by check, use the full name of the charity rather than initials or an abbreviation. Do not give your credit card number to a telephone solicitor or in response to any unsolicited phone call you receive.
  • Charitable gifts-in-kind, such as food or clothing given directly to a charity, may help scammers mask exorbitant executive compensation or administrative costs if they falsely inflate the value of the goods in IRS filings. Research the charity recipient of gifts-in-kind, just as you would for cash gifts.
  • Be wary of car donation solicitations. Car donations often result in minimal returns to charities because of the high cost of advertising and other expenses associated with marketing the vehicles for re-sale. If you do decide to donate to a car donation fundraiser or charity, ask that they inform you of, and provide records on, every donation designated to you. Call the charity that was supposed to benefit from your car donation to ensure that they received your donation.

ADDITIONAL CONSUMER RESOURCES

The California Attorney General’s Guide to Charitable Giving: http://oag.ca.gov/sites/all/files/agweb/pdfs/charities/publications/CharitiesSolicitation.pdf

Consumers who believe they are a victim of a charitable giving scam can file a complaint with the Department of Justice by using the following form: http://oag.ca.gov/sites/all/files/agweb/pdfs/charities/charitable/ct9.pdf

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