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The Donor’s Guide to Giving

A holiday guide for giving during the pandemic

As the holiday season approaches, and in the spirit of Giving Tuesday (November 30), the ANA Nonprofit Federation offers these tips and guidance to aid donors with their giving questions.

Giving during the pandemic. As a donor, you have every right to expect that the nonprofit you support is respectful and grateful to those who give during this unprecedented time. In fact, most are taking additional steps to be transparent and to thank donors and show actual results to donors concerned about their gift impact. Organizations understand and value the donations provided when donors themselves face extreme uncertainty and anxiety.

Seek organization transparency. As a donor, it is your right to ask tough questions, and it is the responsibility of legitimate charitable organizations to provide detailed information upon request, as well as a point of contact for questions. Every charitable cause has an obligation to always be accountable to you the donor. Never be afraid to reach out and ask questions.

Find out how a gift will be used. Most organizations have financial information and annual reports on their websites so donors can see how their gifts will be used. A legitimate charity should provide either its annual report or IRS Form 990 upon request. However, many religious organizations are not required to file Form 990, so contributors should ask them what financial information is currently available.

Using third party charity watchdogs to evaluate charities. Donors have choices when evaluating charities. There are several national watchdogs that score and rate charities. Before going to these resources, the best way to measure a charity is to contact the organization directly. Charity watchdogs provide another lens through which a donor can gain background, but the best choice is to thoroughly review an organization’s own website before going to a third party.

Donating by check or credit card. Legitimate organizations will always accept checks or credit cards. Donors should be cautious when donating cash to organizations that are unfamiliar to them.

Protecting personal data. The ANA Nonprofit Federation is fully committed to protecting the donor’s privacy. That is why we ask charitable organizations to have a clear privacy policy for the use of any personal information they collect. The privacy policy is posted on the organization’s website or available through a mobile app. Legitimate charities never request sensitive personal information such as Social Security numbers, a mother’s maiden name, or PINs.

Securing online donations: When donating online, make sure to enter personal information only on sites that are secured. Secured sites will have the “lock” icon in the viewer’s browser.

If contacted by telephone, ask about the caller’s relationship to the organization: Charitable organizations often utilize external telemarketing agencies to extend their donor outreach. This provides the nonprofit with the services of professional fundraisers, volunteers, and staff to contact donors by phone. In all instances, a donor should expect callers to explain who they are and why they are calling. Ask for the caller’s contact information if there is cause for concern, or contact the charity itself through its website.

Beware of high-pressure tactics: Authentic organizations are professional and courteous when asking for support. They understand that respectful communication is the correct approach to fundraising. Unfortunately, during the current health crisis and civil unrest, we have heard instances of a handful of fraudulent actors trying to take advantage of public fears to gain donor support. If an organization uses such tactics or seems at all suspicious, please contact ethics@ana.net to report your concerns.

Be careful of email “spoofing” and “phishing”: When donating online, be careful of spoofing, a scam that can trick potential donors. Avoid clicking on a link from an email that appears to be from a familiar organization, even though the email may have the logo and the correct “sent from” source. The site link may look genuine, but it is from an imposter who has copied the site’s information. Instead of clicking on the link, go directly to the organization’s website to learn how to donate online. Phishing occurs when donors receive an unfamiliar email or text asking them to click a link or provide a password, bank account, or other sensitive information. Once the link is clicked, it can spread a computer virus and use passwords to access accounts. Legitimate charities do not seek account information or send unfamiliar links.

Review federal and state reporting sources: State officials monitor charitable activity, and most states require charitable organizations that publicly solicit funds to register, usually with either the Attorney General or the Secretary of State. The respective office in each state can identify registered organizations, apart from religious organizations. Donors should report any suspicious activity to state authorities immediately. Contact information for statewide offices is available at https://www.nasconet.org/, the website for the National Association of State Charity Officials (NASCO). The Internal Revenue Service also provides guidance on finding charities at this website: https://www.irs.gov/. For telemarketing agency complaints, contact the FTC at https://www.ftc.gov/.

Seek accountability: Legitimate groups will provide detailed information on the impact of the donor’s gift upon request. If donors are not satisfied with the response, they should send their donation to a different charity that does provide accountability.

Gratitude counts: We know the efforts donors like you make to sustain and support charities, particularly during these difficult times, is truly heroic. We believe organizations should honor your generosity by being transparent, impactful, and thankful for every gift you provide.

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