Archive for Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Give generously, wisely

November 29, 2011

With the holiday season upon us, giving will be on the minds of many Kansans. While shoppers seek the perfect gifts for family and friends, many nonprofit charitable organizations will also be asking for your generous support.

Nearly 4,000 charitable organizations are registered in Kansas and engage in a wide variety of important work. It can be difficult to decide where to direct our charitable dollars. Unfortunately, there are also scammers out there who masquerade as non-profit organizations but whose real purpose is to line their own pockets.

How can you be sure your donations are going to support a legitimate organization? First, you should check to make sure the charity you are giving to is registered with the Kansas Secretary of State’s Office by visiting kscharitycheck.org. Most charities that solicit donations in the State of Kansas are required to register. The most common exceptions from registration are certain educational and religious institutions. If an organization is registered, this site will also let you know what percentage of the funds the organization raises goes to support the charitable purpose and what percentage is used for fundraising expenses. Look closely at this information — sometimes a very small portion of each dollar you give goes to the actual charitable work and much of your donation goes to “overhead” and administrative expenses.

Second, if you are planning to claim a tax deduction from your donation, you should also make sure the organization is in good standing with the Internal Revenue Service. Recently, a number of organizations had their charitable status revoked by the IRS for failing to file necessary paperwork. You can check to see if an organization is eligible for tax-deductible contributions at www.irs.gov/app/pub-78/. Once you have made your contribution, be sure to save a receipt or acknowledgement from the organization to claim your deduction.

Scammers posing as charities will often target people by telephone solicitation. They may use a name that sounds similar to a legitimate organization and ask for the donation to be made on the phone by giving them your bank or credit card number. You should never be afraid to tell the solicitor you need some time to think about it and ask for a physical address to send your donation. You may also ask them to mail to you written information about the charity. This will give you time to research the organization and make sure it is legitimate. Any reputable charity will be willing to wait a few days to receive your contribution.

Perhaps the best advice is to think in advance about what charities you want to support and then contact them to discuss a possible contribution. That puts you in control of your giving and does not leave you subject to the whims of whoever may choose to solicit you for your donations.

If you do run into a scam or are concerned about the registration status of an organization, our office is here to help. Please file a report with us by visiting www.ksag.org or call our Consumer Protection Division at 1-800-432-2310. You can also find more tips for charitable giving in the Consumer Protection section of our website.

We appreciate the fine work our Kansas charities do year-round and know that they couldn’t do it without the support from generous Kansans. The best way to avoid charity scams is to give to local, familiar organizations with which you have a personal relationship. Doing a little research before you give can help make sure your donations are put to good use.

Best wishes for a safe and happy holiday season!

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