Give Smart: How to Donate Safely to Charities

As the days get shorter and colder, many of us want to spread good cheer and extend a helping hand to those in need. This year, November 28 is “Giving Tuesday,” a day where everyone is encouraged to be generous and donate to a worthy cause. Many charities solicit extra donations on this day, with some even offering to match amounts given or offering special gifts in return for your contribution.

Online payments have made donating to charities easier than ever, and while many charities and donors have preventative measures in place to protect these transactions, bad actors lurk in the shadows, waiting to take advantage of the good will spread by others. With a little caution and forethought, it’s easy to ensure that your donation makes a positive impact and reaches the intended recipients.

Follow these guidelines and give with confidence this holiday season.

  • Research Before You Give
    • Perform an online search for your chosen cause, e.g., “tornado relief” or “animal rescue” paired with a phrase like “best charities” or “highest-rated charity.”
    • Once you find a preferred charity, search for its name plus words like “complaint” or “rating.” Read reviews and news stories from reliable sources and take note if the majority of them are positive or negative.
    • The New York State Office of the Attorney General hosts an online registry that provides additional information on New York-based charities.
  • Verify the Charity’s Legitimacy
    • Visit the charity’s website. Check the contact information and note if the charity highlights any verification by government agencies.
    • Investigate how they will use your donation. Does the charity break down what percentage of donations are used for administrative costs? Be wary if details about how money is spent are vague or missing entirely.
    • A number of nonprofit organizations have search functions to assist in verifying charities.
    • Use caution when fielding unsolicited phone calls, texts and emails from unknown charities. Never share your payment or personal information unless you’re sure the contact is legitimate.
  • Take Special Care When Paying for Your Donation Online
    • Donate by credit card or check after you have done comprehensive research about the charity. Don’t pay with gift cards, wire transfers or cryptocurrency.
    • Always verify that the webpage where you are paying has ‘https’ in the web address bar. This means that your personal information will be encrypted and securely transmitted.
    • After you have donated, monitor your bank account and credit card statements to ensure that you have only been charged the amount you agreed to pay.
    • Keep a record of your donation. This is helpful for tracking your money and will assist you with tax deductions, if applicable.
  • If You Believe You’ve Been Scammed, Take Appropriate Steps
    • Document everything. If you believe you donated to a fraudulent organization, anything in writing will be essential in attempting to recover your money.
    • Find reliable guides, preferably from government resources, on how to report fraud and attempt to recoup your payment. The Federal Trade Commission has a comprehensive guide on What To Do if You Paid a Scammer.