America is a very compassionate nation Ė donating nearly $300 billion to charities last year. When someone is in need, it is in our nature to reach out and help. Thoughtful contributors deserve to know that their donations actually go toward charitable work. It is also essential that anyone attempting to deceive the public under the guise of charity is put to a stop.
New York State law requires that organizations that solicit money directly from the public register with the Department of Law. The law secures your right to know how much money these organizations raise and how your contributions are being used, including salaries and administrative expenses.
As we embark on the holiday season the appeals for charitable gifts will peak. With that in mind, I offer a few helpful ďdoís and donítsĒ that you should keep in mind before contributing.
Doís of charitable giving:
Do ask to see identification for both the solicitor and the organization, including the organizationís registration number;
Do ask how much of your contribution goes toward fundraising and administrative expenses, including the salaries of the organizationís directors and employees;
Do ask for written literature, and read it;
Do ask how much the organization itself is to receive if it is selling a product or service;
Do ask whether your contribution may be tax deductible;
Do be suspicious of anyone who canít respond to your questions satisfactorily.
Doníts of charitable giving:
Donít be afraid to ask questions;
Donít give to an organization you know nothing about;
Donít let yourself be pressured into making a donation;
Donít feel obligated to make a contribution on the spot Ė you can always mail a contribution after receiving more information;
Donít give because the solicitor gives you a ďsob story.Ē This approach is quite often a sign of phony and unscrupulous operators;
Donít be fooled by an impressive name or one that closely resembles the name of a respected or legitimate concern.
Most organizations in New York State that engage in charitable activities and/or solicit charitable contributions are required to register with the Attorney Generalís Charities Bureau. Under New York State law, charity is defined very broadly, and includes purposes such as cultural programs, education, poverty relief, promotion of health and research to cure disease, and other purposes to benefit the community.
Although most charitable organizations are required to register, some are exempt, including: religious organizations, parent-teacher associations, membership organizations that do not solicit contributions from the public, certain educational institutions, and government agencies. Depending on the nature of their activities and whether they solicit contributions from the public, other organizations may also be exempt from registration.
The New York State Attorney Generalís office has additional information that can be helpful for givers and charities alike. The website, charitiesnys.com, contains financial reports of charities active in New York, guidance for those who manage charities and solicit charitable contributions, tips for those considering donating to charity, and links to other resources. The website also includes an on-line complaint form. All complaints received by the Charities Bureau are reviewed thoroughly to determine whether or not any action by the attorney general is warranted.
Perhaps the best advice is to give to a local non-profit group or charity. There are many organizations staffed by volunteers that live and work right here in our community. These groups make a real difference in the lives of our friends and neighbors, and they are part of the reason why our area is special.
Finally, if you want to donate to a cause, but do not have the financial means to do so, consider giving your time Ė it is just as valuable to non-profits in need.