Joining the right team Part 2
Last month I talked about all of the charities that come out during disasters and tragic events. If you goal is to work with an organization that is doing good works, you have to make sure they are legit. You don’t want to donate your valuable time and hard won treasure to someone’s secret off-shore bank account. And with a little research, you can make sure the organization you are planning on working with isn’t going to disappear in the night like the Colts did to Baltimore (I know it was a long time ago, but it still bugs me to this day. For those of you too young to remember this NFL travesty, look it up on Google).
Here are some tips on figuring out who to work with and who to avoid:
1. Big Broth…um, I mean the IRS: A good place to start is to check the organizations tax status. Click here to be re-directed to the IRS search site for charitable organizations. You can limit your search to those that have a tax exempt status or those that have had the status revoked. You can also find information on how to deduct you contributions on your taxes and download the all the necessary forms.
2. Show me the Form 990 tax return!: A phone call or visit to the organization isn’t out of order and may help you ferret out the good’uns from the bad’uns. Their name should be a clear indicator of what they do and who they are trying to help. Bob’s gerbil farm charity is probably not trying to raise money for victims of a tsunami in Micronesia. If they have a PO Box and no physical location, this should set off alarm bells in your head. Their brochure should tell you everything you need to know about administrative cost, the location of the recipients, the members of their board of directors and what percentage of the money they collect is used for their stated purpose. Ask to see a copy of their Form 990 tax return. This will give you a breakdown of how they spend their money. If they refuse to show you, take your giving elsewhere.
3. Let someone else do the research for you: Because of time restraints or general laziness, you can’t do all the leg work yourself. There are organizations that will do it for you. The National Charities Information Bureau is based in NYC and has a website lists the organizations that have met their “Standards in Philanthropy”. The American Institute of Philanthropy aka Charity Watch has a website that lists hundreds of charities and rates them based on how they spend their money, their administrative procedures and their transparency. And not to be left out of the party, the Better Business Bureau has its Philanthropic Advisory Service to help you on your way to building those positive karma points. There are several other organizations that sift through all the info out there for you and make a recommendation as to who deserves your support.
(Authors note: I am in no way vouching for any of these organizations. They advertise that they can assist you in finding the right charities to give to, but having never used them, I cannot endorse them or their services)
4. Watch out for copycats: Some not so reputable organizations will hack a name from a well known organizations hoping you won’t be paying attention. You might not want to give your money to the Brats and Grills Clubs of America (although, it does sound like a tasty organization to be a part of) or Habitrails for Humanity. While despicable behavior, it’s not technically against the law. The original organization can take them to court, but your donation to them is still theirs and still doesn’t go to your intended group.
5. Under pressure: Any group that uses high pressure tactics to get you support should avoided. You’ll get that phone call from a group with a quick sales pitch and then “can I put you down for $XX.XX?”. It’s not really a question so much as a way to catch you off guard. They are hoping the fast talk and abruptness of the question will get you to agree. If you feel like you are getting the stereotypical used car salesman hustle, then walk away.
6. I’ve got a bad feeling about this: Trust your gut. Follow your instincts. Channel your inner Hans Solo or use the force or whatever works best for you. Just remember, if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, smells like a duck….
Once again, I encourage you to give back to you community in time and /or treasure. Just make sure you give generously and give wisely. One day you or someone you love may need the services of one of one of these organizations. Their ability to remain a resource for the community is reliant on the members of that community giving what they can and taking only what they need. So pick up your axe or your wallet and show the love.