Make sure the Grinch doesn’t take your charitable dollars

Published 1:12 pm Tuesday, November 21, 2023

BY TRE HARGETT
TN SECRETARY OF STATE
The holidays are here, a time when many of us – however willingly or reluctantly – open our wallets to buy presents, food, decorations, and the other trappings of the season. Particularly during tough economic times like these when inflation is high, people will be trying to stretch their money as far as possible by looking for the best deals they can find as they make their holiday purchases.
The holidays are a time when many of us give money to charitable causes. Unfortunately, it often seems like a lot less thought goes into donating money to charity than the other holiday spending decisions we make. Some people spend all day shopping for the best prices on toasters, sweaters, or the newest technological gadget only to make a donation to a perceived good cause without any hesitation.
If givers are already educated about the charity that is raising money, that is fine. After all, the holidays are a season of giving, and Tennesseans who can afford to make donations to worthy charities should be encouraged to do so. However, there are charities that are unwise or inefficient in how they spend the donations that they receive. I am encouraging you to be an educated consumer with your charitable dollars.
To help sort out the good charities from the not-so-good, there are some guidelines that people should follow when they are making decisions about when, where, and how much they donate.
The first rule is to ask questions.
If someone approaches you on the street or calls you on the phone asking for money, don’t be afraid to ask for details about the charity, its mission and exactly how the dollars you donate will be spent. How much of the charity’s money goes to programs and services, and how much goes to administrative expenses or other costs? Is there a telephone number or website that you can contact for further information?
If you receive vague answers, or no answers at all, to those kinds of questions, then that should be a red flag that maybe you need to do more research before making a donation.
Also, does the person asking you for money actually work for the charity or a professional fundraising organization? If it’s the latter, then some portion of the money you give will probably go to the fundraising organization instead of the cause you are hoping to support.
Do not be pressured into giving donations “on the spot.” Reputable charities should not object if you want to learn more about their operations before you make a financial commitment.
With a few exceptions, charities that ask for donations in Tennessee are required to register with my office’s Division of Business and Charitable Organizations. They are also required to file an annual financial statement form, which provides information about how they spend their money. Those can be viewed online at https://sos.tn.gov/charities.
Information about charities may also be found by checking out their websites or asking friends and neighbors who have dealt with these charities in the past.
Do not let yourself be pressured into giving cash. If you decide to make a donation, it is better to do so with a check, made out in the organization’s name rather than to an individual. This makes it easier for you to deduct the donation from your tax returns and also creates a paper trail with the organization.
Additionally, be protective of your credit card numbers or other personal information and only share with highly trusted sources.
If you suspect a charity of engaging in fraudulent or misleading fundraising activities, please call the Division of Business and Charitable Organizations at 615-741-2555. The Division has the authority to investigate and impose civil penalties against groups and individuals who violate the Tennessee Charitable Solicitations Act.
Donating money is a proud holiday tradition. You can give yourself the confidence that the money you donate is being well-spent and the best way to do that is by educating yourself before you give.

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