Charitable Donations

2013 is drawing to a close and millions of Americans are opening their hearts and wallets to donate to charities. Charities step up their marketing this time of year to solicit much needed funds. Unfortunately, scam artists do the same. A little bit of common sense will make sure your donation doesn't go to waste. The Federal Trade Commission ( recommends that you take some basic precautions before making a donation.

Do your research

Get detailed information about the charity, including the organization's exact name, address and telephone number. Do a reverse phone lookup and search the address.

Search online for the name of the organization with the word "complaint(s)" or "scam".

Check if the charity is trustworthy by contacting the Better Business Bureau's (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, or GuideStar.

If a donation request comes from a group claiming to help your local community (for example, local police or firefighters), ask the local agency if they have heard of the group and are getting financial support.


Many charities outsource to a paid fundraiser, which is a company that raises money for charities. If you are speaking with a fundraiser, ask:

  • The name of the charity they represent
  • The percentage of your donation that will go to the charity
  • How much will go to the actual cause to which you're donating
  • How much will go to the fundraiser

Avoid any charity or fundraiser that:

  • Refuses to provide detailed information about its identity, mission, costs and how the donation will be used.
  • Won't provide proof that a contribution is tax deductible.
  • Uses a name that closely resembles that of a better-known, reputable organization.
  • Thanks you for a pledge you don't remember making.
  • Uses high-pressure tactics like trying to get you to donate immediately, without giving you time to think about it and do your research.
  • Asks you to wire money or send cash.
  • Offers to send a courier or overnight delivery service to collect your donation.
  • Guarantees sweepstakes winnings in exchange for a contribution (this is illegal).

Report Charity Scams

If you think you've been the victim of a charity scam, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission or with your state's Attorney General. Your complaints can help detect patterns of wrong-doing and lead to investigations and prosecutions.