December could be known as the “giving season” because that is when many people’s thoughts turn to gift giving and charitable donations.
You may also see that charities use this time of year to solicit donations. This is where you need to be careful, and do your due diligence to discover whether this organization is a legitimate one or not. Here are some tips to protect your donation:
1. Know who wants your money. You may receive telephone calls, letters or emails asking for money, but you have every right to ask what percentage of your donation actually goes to the charity or fundraiser. If you don’t get a clear answer or don’t like the answer, look at donating to another group.
2. Verify the charity. Before handing over money to an unknown person or caller, check with the charity to make sure this solicitation is legitimate. Unfortunately, there are scammers who use an organization’s identity to grab money.
3. Keep records of your donations. You may get a solicitation from someone thanking you for your donation of last year and asking if you’d like to repeat it again this year. If you don’t have a record of your pledge or don’t remember it, don’t automatically say “yes.”
4. Understand the difference between “tax deductible” and “tax exempt.” If the donation is tax deductible, you can deduct your donation on your tax return. Tax exempt only means that the organization doesn’t have to pay taxes.
5. Don’t send cash. For both tax records and security reasons, never send cash through the mail or give a cash donation. Use a credit card or check that can be tracked. If giving online, check the organization’s URL in the browser bar and make sure it begins with “https”. The “s” means that the site is secure and the private information you are entering (such as your credit card information and password) is encoded and protected from hackers.
6. Don’t trust the drop box. Groups place drop boxes around the area where you can donate clothing and household goods. Verity that the organization is legitimate before donating by calling the phone number posted on the box and checking the website.
Laws for Charitable Solicitation
Charitable organizations are required by law to register with the government before soliciting contributions, and those in Washington, D.C. must register in Virginia and Maryland as well as D.C., since their solicitation circulated in the Metro area.
Ways to Check Up
There are several ways to verify that the soliciting organization is legitimate. Try these resources:
• BBB Wise Giving Alliance, Arlington, VA, 703-276-0100
• Guide Star, Williamsburg, VA, 757-229-4631
• Military Relief Societies
How to Reduce Solicitations
If you feel like you are getting too many solicitations, there are ways to reduce the contact you receive:
• Sign up on the Do Not Call Registry. Although charities may be exempt from the rule, this should reduce the number of calls you receive. Register online or call 1-888-382-1222 from the phone you wish to register.
• Sign up for the Direct Marketing Association’s Mail Preference Service. This will allow you to opt out from receiving unsolicited mail for five years.
• Send a note to the charity. Along with your donation, send a note requesting that your personal information (email, phone, address) and donation history not be shared, rented, sold or exchanged.
• Ask the charity to put you on their Do Not Call list. Legally, they cannot contact you again upon receiving this request. If they do, report their contact to the state Attorney General or the local consumer protection agency.
Bear in mind that the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule requires that telemarketers reveal immediately the charity they represent, and to restrict their calling times to between the hours of 8 AM and 9 PM.
Contact Your Estate Law Attorney
If you have questions about selecting or verifying a charitable organization, or the tax or estate planning ramifications of a giving campaign, contact Patricia E. Tichenor or Camellia Safi, estate law attorneys at The Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor, P.L.L.C. We’re conveniently located in Leesburg, VA to serve clients throughout Northern Virginia.
If you have never thought about including a charity aspect in your estate plan, we can help you put that into place as well. Contact us today.