It is a sad commentary on society to know that warnings of potential fundraiser scams in the wake of tragedies like that in Las Vegas must be delivered.Yet, this is the world in which we live, and …
It is a sad commentary on society to know that warnings of potential fundraiser scams in the wake of tragedies like that in Las Vegas must be delivered.
Yet, this is the world in which we live, and for that reason respected organizations like the Better Business Bureau must deliver such necessary messages. As America continues to seek meaning in the recent Nevada shootings that left a total of 59 people dead and hundreds injured, scammers are already on the prowl for unsuspecting victims.
For those who saw our news story in Monday’s edition, the Cleveland office of the BBB — in conjunction with the nonprofit’s Wise Giving Alliance — is reminding well-intended donors who seek to help victims and their families that they should give responsibly by checking the facts before clicking the “Send” button.
As published earlier this week on our front page, the following are 11 helpful BBB reminders:
1. Thoughtful giving: Take the time to check out the charity to avoid wasting your generosity by donating to a questionable or poorly managed effort. The first request for a donation may not be the best choice. Be proactive and find trusted charities that are providing assistance. Visit Give.org to verify if a charity meets the BBB Standards for Charitable Accountability.
2. Crowdfunding: Keep in mind that some crowdfunding sites do very little vetting of individuals who decide to post for assistance after a tragedy or a disaster, and it is often difficult for donors to verify the trustworthiness of crowdfunding requests for support. More information is available on Give.org.
3. Respect for victims and their families: Organizations raising funds should get permission from the families to use either the names of the victims and/or any photographs of them. Some charities raising funds for the victims of previous shootings did not do this and were the subject of criticism from victims’ families.
4. State government registration: About 40 of the 50 states require charities to register with a state government agency (usually a division of the State Attorney General’s office) before they solicit for charitable gifts. If the charity is not registered, that may be a significant red flag.
5. Use of donations: Watch out for vague appeals that don’t identify the intended use of funds. For example, how will the donations help victims’ families? Also, unless told otherwise, donors will assume that funds collected quickly in the wake of a tragedy will be spent just as quickly. See if the appeal identifies when the collected funds will be used.
6. A family’s own assistance fund: Some families may decide to set up their own assistance funds. Be mindful that such funds may not be set up as charities. Also, if collected monies are received and administered by a third party such as a bank, CPA or lawyer, this will help provide oversight and ensure the collected funds are used appropriately (such as paying for funeral costs, counseling and other tragedy-related needs).
7. Advocacy organizations: Tragedies that involve violent acts with firearms can also generate requests from a variety of advocacy organizations that address gun use. Donors can support these efforts as well, but note that some of these advocacy groups are not tax-exempt as charities. Also, watch out for newly created advocacy groups that will be difficult to check out.
8. Online caution: Never click on links to charities on unfamiliar websites or in text messages or email. These may take you to a look-alike website where you will be asked to provide personal financial information, or may download harmful malware onto your computer. Don’t assume that charity recommendations on social media have already been vetted.
9. Financial transparency: After funds are raised for a tragedy, it is even more important for organizations to provide an accounting of how funds were spent. Transparent organizations will post this information on their websites so that anyone can find out without having to wait until the audited financial statements are available sometime in the future.
10. Newly created v. established organizations: This is a personal giving choice, but an established charity will more likely have the experience to quickly address the circumstances and have a track record that can be evaluated. A newly formed organization may be well-meaning, but will be difficult to check out and may not be well managed.
11. Tax deductibility: Not all organizations collecting funds to assist after a tragedy are tax exempt as charities under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Donors can support these other entities, but keep this in mind if they want to take a deduction for federal income tax purposes. In addition, contributions that are donor-restricted to help a specific individual or family are not deductible as charitable donations, even if the recipient organization is a charity.
Lisa Geren, executive director of BBB’s Cleveland office who provided the above reminders, acknowledged it is unfortunate that individuals, or groups, would work actively to take advantage of willing donors in such times of crisis. Yet, it is real and it happens in our own community.
For those wishing to help others, especially in the aftermath of tragedies like the Las Vegas shootings, we applaud your humanitarianism and your heartfelt kindness. But we join the BBB in urging you to check the facts before making a commitment.
As long as there are senseless tragedies, heartless vultures will circle. And their prey will be anyone who seeks to do good.
Don’t let these reminders detract you from helping. But use them as a guide to protect your gifts before they are made.
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