An invoice that tells you to “keep this receipt for your records” doesn’t mean that your donation is tax deductible or that the organization is tax exempt.
By: US Federal Trade Commission
Consider the following precautions to ensure that your donation dollars benefit the people and organizations you want to help. They’re good practices whether you’re contacted by an organization’s employees, volunteers or professional fund-raisers, soliciting donations by phone, mail or in person.
- Be wary of appeals that tug at your heart strings, especially pleas involving patriotism and current events. Although the Department of Defense does not endorse any specific war related charity, you can visit their Web site at www.army.mil/operations/oif/FAQ.html to find out about military relief societies that provide assistance to U.S. Servicemembers and their families.
- Ask for written information about the charity, including name, address and telephone number. A legitimate charity or fund-raiser will give you information about the charity’s mission, how your donation will be used and proof that your contribution is tax deductible.
- Check out the charity’s financial information. For many organizations, this information can be found online at www.guidestar.org or at GuideStar, 4801 Courthouse Street, Suite 220, Williamsburg, VA 23188; 757-229-4631.
- Ask for identification. The Telemarketing Sales Rule requires for-profit fund-raisers to disclose the name of the charity requesting the donation. Many states require paid fund-raisers to identify themselves as such and to name the charity for which they’re soliciting. If the solicitor refuses to tell you, hang up and report it to law enforcement officials.
- Call the charity. Find out if the organization is aware of the solicitation and has authorized the use of its name. If not, you may be dealing with a scam artist.
- Check with local recipients. If giving to local organizations is important to you, make sure they will benefit from your generosity. If a charity tells you that your dollars will support a local organization, such as a fire department, police department or hospital, call the organization to verify the claim.
- Watch out for similar sounding names. Some phony charities use names that closely resemble those of respected, legitimate organizations. If you notice a small difference from the name of the charity you intend to deal with, call the organization you know to check it out.
- Know the difference between “tax exempt” and “tax deductible.” Tax exempt means the organization doesn’t have to pay taxes. Tax deductible means you can deduct your contribution on your federal income tax return. Even if an organization is tax exempt, your contribution may not be tax deductible. If a tax deduction is important to you, ask for a receipt showing the amount of your contribution and stating that it is tax deductible.
Beware of organizations that use meaningless terms to suggest they are tax exempt charities. For example, the fact that an organization has a “tax I.D. number” doesn’t mean it is a charity; every nonprofit and for-profit organization must have a tax I.D. number. And an invoice that tells you to “keep this receipt for your records” doesn’t mean that your donation is tax deductible or that the organization is tax exempt.
- Be skeptical if someone thanks you for a pledge you don’t remember making. If you have any doubts about whether you’ve made a pledge or previously contributed, check your records. Be on the alert for invoices claiming you’ve made a pledge. Some unscrupulous solicitors use this approach to get your money.
- Ask how your donation will be distributed. How much will go to the program you want to support (as opposed to other programs of the nonprofit), and how much will cover the charity’s administrative and telemarketing costs?
- Refuse high pressure appeals. Legitimate fund-raisers won’t push you to give on the spot.
- Be wary of charities offering to send a courier or overnight delivery service to collect your donation immediately.
- Consider the costs. When buying merchandise or tickets for special events, or when receiving “free” goods in exchange for giving, remember that these items cost money and generally are paid for out of your contribution. Although this can be an effective fund-raising tool, less money may be available for the charity.
- Be wary of guaranteed sweepstakes winnings in exchange for a contribution. According to law, you never have to donate anything to be eligible to win.
- Avoid cash gifts. Cash can be lost or stolen. For security and tax record purposes, it’s best to pay by check.
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