- Check Registration status Charities operating in California and telemarketers soliciting donations in California are required to register with the Attorney General’s Registry of Charitable Trusts. They are also required to file annual financial reports. Confirm that the charity and fundraiser are registered and up-to-date with their financial reporting by searching the Attorney General’s website for their records at www.oag.ca.gov/charities. Remember: current registration status with the Attorney General’s Office does not mean the Attorney General endorses or has approved the activities of the organization.
- Give to organizations you trust Do research before giving. Review the charity’s purpose and its financial records, and find out how it spends donations on the Attorney General’s website at www.oag.ca.gov/charities. Consider how much the charity spends directly on its charitable cause, and how much goes to overhead and employee compensation. Research charities in your community and support those charities that make a positive impact.
- Ask for written materials Ask the charity for information in writing about its programs and finances, and also to confirm the charity’s name, address, and its nonprofit status.
- Don’t be pressured by telemarketers and ask questions before donating If you receive a call from a telemarketer, ask for the name of the telemarketer, whether it is registered with the Attorney General’s Office, the name of the charity benefitting from the solicitation, how much of your donation will go to charity and how much to the telemarketer, and the direct telephone number of the charity. If the telemarketer tells you the donation is for your local animal shelter, hospital, school, police department, firefighter or other public safety agency, check directly with the benefitting organization to confirm that they authorized the solicitation and will actually benefit from your donation. Don’t fall for pressure tactics or threats. Remember you have the right to reject the donation appeal and if you feel pressured or threatened, just hang up.
- Be vigilant when donating after natural disasters or tragedies Well intentioned or otherwise, charities are sometimes formed overnight to address calamities, but they often lack the experience, contacts, and staff to respond to these disasters. Even during a crisis, take time to research a charity before giving.
- Watch out for similar-sounding names and other deceptive tactics Some organizations use names that closely resemble those of well-established charitable organizations to mislead donors. Be skeptical if someone thanks you for a pledge you never made. Check your records.
- Avoid tax confusion: Know the difference between “tax-exempt” nonprofit and tax-deductible Being a nonprofit does not mean the organization is exempt from taxation, or that your donation is tax-deductible. There are many different types of nonprofit organizations, and generally, a tax-exempt organization is not required to pay tax on its income and gifts, but not all could offer their donors a charitable tax deduction for their contributions. The fact that an organization has a “Tax ID Number” or provides a receipt that says “Keep This Receipt for Your Records” does not mean the organization is a charity, that it is tax-exempt, or that your donation is tax-deductible. A few tax-exempt organizations, most notably those given the Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, are able to offer charitable tax deductions for your donations. If you are not sure whether your donation is tax-deductible, verify the charity’s 501(c)(3) status with the Attorney General’s website or the IRS website.
- Consider the costs of gifts and merchandise Gifts you receive from a charity for your donation or charity fundraising events cost money and generally, these expenses are paid from donated funds. Also, the value of the goods and services you receive in exchange for your donation is not tax-deductible. Some charities sell merchandise online and claim that “100% of the proceeds” will benefit the charitable purpose – but this does not necessarily mean 100% of the sales price of the merchandise will go to charity, and the cost of the merchandise can greatly reduce the value of your donation.
- File a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office If a fundraiser or telemarketer engages in abusive, coercive or threatening behavior, file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office. Similarly, if you suspect that the charity is mismanaged, that there has been a diversion of charitable assets, or that it is a sham charity, file a complaint. The complaint form is available online at www.oag.ca.gov/charities.
Online Giving Tips
Before donating online, also review the Attorney General’s Guide for Online Charitable Giving, and be aware of the following:
- Be cautious of "look-alike" websites These fraudulent websites may have a slightly different web address (URL). Similar looking URLs are sometimes purchased to lure in would-be donors. These sites may ask for personal information or install harmful material onto your device.
- Know how your donation will be used Donations given online may not be restricted to the specific causes you support, and instead may support the charity’s general program. If you want your donation to benefit a specific charitable program – for example, disaster relief – you may need to contact the charity to give instructions, rather than relying on an online “donate” button.
- Protect your inbox If you are not interested in getting emails, check the box that tells the charity that you do not want to receive future communications.
- Watch out for scammers If you receive an email from an organization to which you have never donated, take extra precautions before clicking on any links.
- Research the charity yourself Don’t assume that charity recommendations on social media sites or blogs have been vetted.
- Be wary of social network fundraising If you are planning to donate through a social network solicitation, find out what percentage is going to the charity, whether you will be charged a fee, if a percentage of your donation will be paid to the platform website, and more. See the Guide for Online Charitable Giving for more information.
Mobile Phone Donation Tips
Text-in donations and donations through QR codes have become common practices. QR codes and the Square Card Reader provide an electronic way for people to give on the spot, and may eliminate middlemen expenses. To make an informed decision before donating through cell phones, donors should be aware of the following:
- Giving through Text:
- The amount and frequency of donations may be capped by wireless carriers during times of high-giving (such as after a natural disaster).
- Wireless carriers may not transfer funds until you pay your bill.
- Find out if normal texting rates apply to your donation.
- Commit only to an amount you can afford. If you intend to donate one-time only, follow the appropriate instructions for a one-time donation and review your phone bills to protect against recurring unauthorized charges.
- Giving through QR Code and the Square Card Reader:
- Anyone can create a QR code or buy a Square Card Reader. Be very careful that the code you scan was provided by a charity and that the person facilitating your Square transaction is authorized by the charity to receive donations on its behalf.
- With QR codes, double check the corresponding website to ensure that you are linked correctly.
- Always check your receipt and your credit card/PayPal statement to ensure the transaction charged to your account is accurate.
Donation Bin Tips
Many people donate clothing and household goods using the donation bins found in store parking lots and in front of grocery stores. Although the bins may make references to "donation" or "charity," many of these bins are part of a lucrative for-profit operation that sell donated clothing overseas for profit.
- Always look at the fine print on the donation bin The bin should state whether it benefits a charity or is operated by for-profit company.
- Call the bin owner and find out if your donation is tax deductible