3 Signs the Charity You’re Donating to Isn’t Legit

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Charities often use emotional appeals—pictures, videos, testimonials—to garner donor support for important causes. The trouble is, illegitimate “charities” do this too, capturing people’s hearts before their heads catch up and ask vital questions. Ultimately, asking these questions frees you as a donor to give confidently, eliminating barriers to your generosity. For a guide to the important questions, here are signs the charity you’re donating to isn’t legit.

They Don’t Tell You Where Donations Go

First, charities should be transparent about where money goes—salaries, supplies, other expenses, new programs, or expansion—and assure donors their money is helping more people receive assistance. While a fair amount of overhead isn’t out of the ordinary, if charities don’t give you a specific answer about where your money will go, they may be hiding something.

A model charity can walk people through where money goes and how they used past donations to achieve specific goals. In turn, they can reasonably project into the future. Meanwhile, a fake organization deals in vague statements. The tragedy of accidentally giving to a fake charity is it funnels money away from deserving causes, so always communicate with a charity before donating.

They Pose as a Nonprofit

Additionally, if an organization poses as a nonprofit without proof, that’s another warning sign the charity you’re donating to is fake. Just as you can’t declare bankruptcy by yelling it, an organization can’t call itself a nonprofit without proper registration.

A legitimate nonprofit registers with the IRS as a 501(c)(3) organization. This status is only obtainable after three years of existence and demonstrated fiscal responsibility, among other factors. Upon registry, they receive documentation from the IRS you can request to see in some form before donating.

They Ask for Cash or Personal Information

One final note—if charities ask for your bank information, date of birth, or social security number or expressly request cash donations, be wary. This could be a scam to steal your identity and/or money. Legitimate charities don’t ask for these things and are typically OK with credit card and check donations. Also, they don’t conduct business over the phone, which many scammers do. If you’re curious about the legitimacy of an organization, look online for more information. Among other sites, GuideStar is a helpful resource.

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