Donors must analyze appeals at the most generous time of the year

New technologies increase ways people can give, as well as the charities asking for funds. Photo: Salvation army/ AP

DALLAS, November 21, 2013 — According to a report by fundraising software company Blackbaud, in 2012 over seventeen percent of donations occurred in December, more than double that of any other month. Online giving was more than twenty-two percent in December 2012. Charitable organizations are taking advantage of the seasonal generosity of Americans and are making their year-end push for donations.

In addition to the avalanche of traditional appeals at this time of year, new technologies from social media to crowd funding can make decisions about where and how to give difficult. Moreover, not all groups soliciting help are worthy of scarce dollars, and disreputable people and organizations can seek to take advantage of generous donors. Organizations such as Charity Navigator, the Better Business Bureau, and ECFA seek to provide information and guidance to help people make wise decisions in giving.

Charity Navigator was founded in 2002 to help donors make better decisions about their giving, and to help them avoid charities that misuse donations. They offer tools to help donors evaluate where and how to spend their money, posting ratings for charitable donations with more than one million dollars in annual donations on their website.

Whatever the size or purpose of the charity, Charity Navigator recommends donors look at three factors: a charity’s fiscal health, accountable and transparent governance, and the results of a charity’s efforts. The organization offers ratings tools for the first two criteria on their website, and is working on implementing a process to help donors analyze a charity’s results.  The website also offers detailed information on rating unrated charities.

Organizations are using new technologies like social media to make their appeals. These platforms can be useful in getting out their message, but Charity Navigator Vice President Sandra Miniutti warns against donating through these applications. “We never advocate giving via these tools. Instead go to the charity’s legitimate website.” Texting is also a popular tool for donating, but Minuitti notes there may be extra costs to the donor, and a charity may not see that donations for as much as 90 days.

The latest development in seeking donations is the use of crowdfunding sites by individuals and organizations alike, but Miniutti gives a cautionary warning about this new technology. She says crowdfunding sites offer little to no vetting of the solicitors. “Donors’ shouldn’t be fooled by the glossy appearance of these sites with compelling videos and storytelling.” Without oversight, Miniutti warns, “They are a very risky way to donate. Even if the messaging on a fund indicates that it will be used for a charitable purpose, there is nothing preventing the solicitor from using the money for a lavish vacation or a new sports car.”

Due diligence is the primary tool in making sure your hard earned dollars go to a good cause. Once a donation is made, there isn’t much recourse for the donor if an organization turns out to be unethical or unwise in it’s activities, says Miniutti. Donors can notify the IRS and their state’s Attorney General, as well as notify Charity Navigator through their website. The better course of action is to do your homework before the check or text is sent.


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April Thompson

April Thompson is a writer and home educator. She has a background in pro-life political work, including speaking to national, state and local groups on life issues. April lives near Dallas, Texas with her husband and four children.

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