Charitable giving -- do your research

This is the giving season, that time of the year we get serious about gifts for family and friends, as well as giving to our favorite charitable causes. I can’t offer advice on gifts for family and friends; you’re on your own there. But I can offer some advice on charitable giving. And some mail a Clinton woman brought to me this week gives me a real-life example to write about.

I’ll call my friend Hazel. Hazel told me that she received several calls from an organization asking her for financial support. Finally feeling worn down, she agreed to a donation. Within days, she received an invoice from this organization. Hazel didn’t feel right about this, so asked me for help, and showed me the invoice. It came from Informed Electorate. The letter displayed a one paragraph quote attributed to one of our Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson, about the need to “educate and inform the …people…for the preservation of our liberty.” Jeez, who can’t get behind that idea?

Well, maybe not so fast. With about two minutes of online research, I found out very little about this organization. And that is troubling. Their website offered feel-good sentiments on the importance of providing survey information to elected officials. But nothing that really zeroed in on the mission of this organization. I found out the group registered itself under yet another name in Utah.

I got back to Hazel and told her to stay away from these folks. Any outfit that uses telemarketers to raise funds should raise a lot of suspicion. A high percentage of the money, maybe almost all of it, will go to pay the telemarketers.

The Federal Trade Commission just published some pointers on giving, encouraging us to do some research first to make sure your money truly helps the causes you care about.

Try these:

n Do some research online. Search for the cause you care about — like “hurricane relief” or “homeless kids” — and phrases like “best charity” or “highly rated charity.”

n When you find an organization that interests you, search its name plus “complaint,” “review,” “rating” or “scam.”

n Then, look at the reports and ratings about that charity at BBB Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, CharityWatch and GuideStar. These sources can help you confirm that you want to donate to that organization. I use Charity Navigator all the time, and find it easy to use and quite helpful.

n Check with your state charity regulator to make sure the organization is registered with them — something that most states require. Find their contact information at nasconet.org.

n Don’t overlook local charities. There are many local groups performing commendable work that need our support. Think about United Way, The Salvation Army, or the many local churches offering food pantries.

Donating to a sham charity only benefits the scammers who get your money. Make sure your donation counts. Pick your cause with your heart, but pick the organization you support with your head. You can always call me to do some research for you.

POSTCARD INTHE MAIL SCAM

Clinton National Bank reported getting several complaints from their customers about a postcard they received. The postcard told the recipient they recently closed on a mortgage loan with Clinton National Bank, and they needed to call a toll-free number to discuss a “time-sensitive” matter. The message included the mortgage number as recorded with the county recorder. In very tiny print at the bottom, a disclaimer appeared telling the reader the message was not associated with the bank.

I did some checking and found many folks nationwide complaining of this same thing. It’s not exclusive to Clinton National Bank. Mortgages are public record, so this is not private information. I compare this to similar postcards many of us received in the past, telling us our car warranty is about to expire. This is just junk mail, misleading us into calling. If you call, it’s likely you’ll get a sales pitch for some kind of credit insurance. Ignore it.

CONTACT SENIORSVS. CRIME

Let me know about scams, fraud, or other crookedness you run across. Most of what I learn, I learn from you. Contact me at Seniors vs. Crime, Clinton County Sheriff’s Office, at 242-9211, Ext. 4433, or email me at randymeier@gapa911.us.

Randy Meier is the director of Seniors vs. Crime, which operates in conjunction with the Clinton County Sheriff’s Office.