BBB's charity donations 'do's and don'ts'

Here's how to avoid being scammed when donating to charities this holiday season

Published On: Dec 07 2012 09:25:14 PM EST   Updated On: Dec 08 2012 07:32:04 AM EST
Salvation Army
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

December is known as a critical fundraising month for charities across the United States. 

Many people make year-end gifts for tax reasons or to extend the spirit of Thanksgiving and generosity to those less fortunate.

The Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance offers a few 'do's and don'ts' when it comes to charity giving, both at holiday time and year-round.

There’s a reason Keith Gibson gives to the  Salvation Army. He said it is simple to puts cash and coins inside the organization's red kettles when walking out a store's door. Gibson also feels it's safe.

The Better Business Bureau warns the charitable among us about scammers that prey upon your holiday spirit.

"I think people are more vulnerable. We're in a caring mood and people sadly seem to care more about each other at this time of year and they take the moment to scam people," said Gibson.   

It may be a just a drop in the bucket, but by giving to the Salvation Army, Gibson knows his money is headed to something legitimate. Not all organizations have charitable intentions, though.

"It’s a shame that it happens, that there are people out there that have no moral regards to other human beings in the world," Gibson said.

While BBB urges folks to donate to charities, the bureau suggests people use the following 'Do's and Don'ts' to make sure their money goes to support a good cause:

Do check out the charity carefully. Make sure you feel comfortable with how your money will be spent. Don’t just take the word of someone else; even good friends may not have fully researched the charities they endorse. Go to www.give.org to verify that a charity meets BBB Wise Giving Alliance’s 20 Standards for Charity Accountability.

Don't assume that only “low overhead” matters. How much money a charity spends on the actual cause – as compared to how much goes toward fundraising and administration – is an important factor, but it’s not the whole story. A charity with impressive financial ratios could have other significant problems such as insufficient transparency, inadequate board activity and inaccurate appeals.

DO be sure it’s the right charity. With so many charities in existence, their names can blur in a donor’s mind and similar-sounding organizations are common. Many phony charities purposefully choose a name that sounds familiar. Be sure you know which charity you’re supporting and that it’s not a case of mistaken identity.

Don't assume that the charity wants any item you donate. Worn out, unusable or unwanted donated goods cost charities millions of dollars each year because the organization has to bear the cost of tossing the unacceptable donation. If you have questions about an item’s acceptability, call the charity and ask.

Do consider easy text-to-give options. The BBB Mobile Giving Foundation makes it easy to give smaller donations (usually $10) to charities they have selected and monitor, including those providing relief to victims of Hurricane Sandy. Go to www.mobilegiving.org to find out more.

For advise on holiday shopping, lists of BBB Accredited Businesses by industry and BBB Business Reviews you can trust on local businesses, visit www.bbb.org.