Tips for charitable giving
How to give wisely
Not all contributions are tax deductible. You can either ask to see the charity’s IRS determination letter or review on the IRS's list of tax-exempt organizations. If you contribute more than $250, the charity must provide you with a formal receipt that states the amount of your tax-deductible contribution.
Make a giving plan
Consider making an annual giving plan. Decide how much you can afford to donate and charities or causes you would like to support. Take the time to research which charities best suit your goals.
Apart from helping you make well-informed choices, a giving plan also gives you a built-in response if someone pushes you for a donation:
“I’ve already committed my contributions for this year, but send me more information and I can consider it in future plans.”
Telemarketers and emails
Don’t be pressured. Some tactics, like repeated phone calls or emotional appeals, pressure contributors to respond immediately. “You must act now” can be a red flag for a scam.
You have the right to say no. Or you can simply ignore the email or end the call. If you do continue the call or are interested in the email, ask for information in writing that describes the charity’s mission and how the donations are to be used.
Be wary of new charities after tragedies. Scammers will often solicit funds claiming they are supporting relief efforts after a natural disaster or other current events. Even some well-intentioned groups may not have the appropriate registration and structures in place to use the funds correctly.
Research the charity
Where does your money go?
- What is the charity’s mission? For instance, charities involved with health issues may support scientific research, promote public awareness, or provide patients with services or information.
- How much of its budget supports its mission? All charities have administrative and fundraising expenses, but be wary if these costs outweigh the amount spent to support the mission.
Is the charity using professional fundraisers?
Review “Pennies for Charity,” the Office of the New York State Attorney General's annual report of telemarketing campaigns, to see how much is spent on fundraising costs and how much has been kept by the charity. Ask if the charity is appropriately registered.
Is the charity appropriately registered?
- Office of the NYS Attorney General — Most charities must register and file regular reports with our office. Visit the charities & nonprofits section of our website for registration and reports.
- Internal Revenue Service — If a charity has tax-exempt status, it must file reports with the IRS. Use the “EO Select Check” tool on the IRS's list of tax-exempt entities to find out.
Charitable calls are exempt from the FTC’s Do-not-call list. However, you have the right to request that telemarketers not call you on behalf of specific charities. You may also ask a charity to take you off its solicitation list.
Watch out for scams
- What’s in a name? Many charity scams use names that are similar to well-known, respected charities. Double check to be sure you are donating to the right organization.
- Law enforcement solicitations — always check with local law enforcement before donating to a group claiming to support the local police. It is illegal for callers to promise special privileges or police protection.
- Fake invoices — get an invoice for a pledge you don’t remember making? This could be a scam.
- “Crowd sourcing” — groups and individuals increasingly “fundraise” for events, causes, or startup businesses through online social media sites. Be sure to research the group before investing.
Protect your finances
- Never give your Social Security number or other personal information in response to a charitable solicitation.
- Never give out credit card or bank account information over the phone or to an organization you are not familiar with.
- Donate securely. When donating online, make sure the website is secure: The web address should start with “https” and it should match the organization to which you are donating. If you donate by text, the charge will appear on your mobile phone bill and could include fees.
- Do not open an attachment in an email unless you know the sender. These attachments can include malware that can steal information from your computer.
Office of the New York State Attorney General Charities Bureau
Find information about a charity’s registration and financial filings.
Internal Revenue Service
Check to see if a charity is eligible to receive tax-deductible gifts.
Provides information about charities and tips about donating.
Better Business Bureau
Provides information about charities’ finances, effectiveness reporting and fundraising appeals.