How To Tell if a Charity is Legitimate

You receive a call from your alma mater, or a knock on the door from a local sports team fundraiser. Fliers show up in the mail, encouraging you to save a manatee or feed a starving orphan. How do you decide who, or what, to help?

There are a few things to keep in mind before sending that payment, says the Federal Trade Commission. Namely, investigate any charity before giving money. While some may be a scam, with fraudsters hoping to gain your money by pulling at your heartstrings, others charities might be legit but not spend money in ways you would like.

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The FTC recommends keeping these tips in mind to help identify charity scammers:

  • Ask how the money will be spent and for detailed information about the charity's mission and costs. Fraudsters likely will refuse to provide this.
  • Ask for proof that the contribution is tax deductible. If a fundraiser doesn't have it, they likely aren't legitimate.
  • Does the charity's name sound a lot like that of a big, well-known charity? That could be the sign of a scam.
  • Does the fundraiser pressure you to give money right away, without time to think over or research your decision? Scammers want you to give before discovering the fraud.
  • Does the fundraiser ask for cash donations, offer to send someone to collect the money right away, or guarantee sweepstakes winnings? All of these things are signs of a charity scam.

A variety of sites exist to help you give money in ways that are legitimate and true to your values. To research a charity's trustworthiness and learn more about how leaders spend their funds, FTC officials recommend visiting the Better Business Bureau's charity giving site; Charity Navigator; Charity Watch; or GuideStar.

For more information visit the FTC's webpage on charitable giving.

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