published Friday, March 18th, 2011

Winsett: Research charity before donating

COLUMN

By Jim Winsett

In the wake of the most powerful earthquake ever to hit Japan, many Americans want to help those affected by the earthquake and the tsunami that followed. Your Better Business Bureau warns donors to exercise caution when making donations to relief agencies and charities.

As with every natural disaster, there are unscrupulous people who will attempt to take advantage of the public’s eagerness to help victims.

In the face of any disaster, Americans will immediately step forward with donations to aid the victims and their families. Unfortunately, we have seen time and time again that scammers will try to take advantage of the generosity of the public after a disaster; that’s why it is so important to take your time and do your research before donating to relief efforts.

Your BBB offers the advice for donors to ensure their donations go to trustworthy relief efforts.

• Before donating, visit www.bbb.org/charity to research organizations you’re considering supporting.

• Be wary of charities that are reluctant to answer reasonable questions about their operations, finances and programs.

• Ask for written information about the charity’s program(s) and finances such as the charity’s latest annual report and financial statements.

• Ask what the charity intends to do with any excess contributions remaining once they have fully funded the disaster relief activities mentioned in solicitations.

• Do not give cash. Checks or money orders should be made out to the name of the charitable organization, not to the individual collecting the donation.

• Beware fake charities that imitate the name and style of well-known organizations in an attempt to confuse donors.

• Do not give in to excessive pressure for on-the-spot donations. Be wary of any request to send a “runner” to pick up your contribution.

• Be wary of any charity that is inexperienced in carrying out relief efforts but is suddenly soliciting for aid in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami. Although well intentioned, they may not be able to quickly deliver aid.

• Be wary of appeals that are long on emotion, but short on describing what the charity will do.

• Don’t give your credit card number or other personal information to a telephone solicitor or in response to an e-mail solicitation.

• Make sure your contribution is tax-deductible: donations should be made to charitable organizations that are tax-exempt under section 501(c) (3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Go to IRS Publication 78 on the IRS website for a list of all organizations eligible to receive contributions deductible as charitable gifts.

For additional information you can trust when making giving decisions, or to view BBB Wise Giving Reports on charities across the nation, start with bbb.org.

Get answers to your questions each Friday from Jim Winsett, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau Inc., which serves Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia. Submit questions to his attention by writing to Business Editor Dave Flessner, Chattanooga Times Free Press, P.O. Box 1447, Chattanooga, TN, 37401-1447, or by e-mailing him at dflessner@timesfreepress.com

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