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How to Protect Yourself While Helping Others

Updated: Apr 22

Donating to a cause you care about is rewarding. Unfortunately, not all charities are created equal. Taking the proper precautions before giving ensures that your donations go to the people and organizations you want to help—and that you’re meeting both your personal and financial goals.

Simple Steps for Protecting Yourself

Trust, but verify

Be cautious of charities that spring up overnight in response to current events or natural disasters. Many of them may not have the infrastructure to get your donations to the affected areas or people.

Confirm that the charity is a true 501(c) organization by checking the IRS website. Other third-party sites, such as Charity Navigator and GuideStar, can also offer insights into how the organization runs and spends its donations. You can also get a better idea of how effective their efforts are.

Verify solicitations

If someone solicits you for a donation, call the charity and ask if they’re aware of a solicitation you received. If not, it may be a scam.

Ignore high-pressure sales

Legitimate fundraisers generally don’t push you to give on the spot. Be wary of charities offering to send a courier or overnight delivery service to collect your donation immediately.

Trust your instincts

Some scammers may try to trick you by thanking you for a pledge you didn’t make. If you don’t remember making the donation or don’t have a record of your previous pledge, resist the pressure to give.

Consider the costs of your gift

When buying merchandise or tickets for special events from a charity, remember that these items cost money and generally are paid for out of your contribution. The same principle applies when receiving free goods in exchange for a donation. Although this can be an effective fundraising tool, giving this way means that less money goes directly to charity.

Avoid those claiming sweepstakes winnings in exchange for a contribution. Under U.S. law, you don’t have to donate to be eligible for a sweepstakes.

Do not send or give cash

Cash can be lost or stolen. For security and tax purposes, it’s best to pay by credit card or check—made payable to the charity, not the solicitor.

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