Few countries have a better reputation than the United States when it comes to charitable giving. Even in a sluggish economy, the American spirit of benevolence and philanthropy shone through in 2010. According to the Giving USA Foundation's annual report, Americans donated more than $290 billion to their favorite causes. Despite Americans' generosity, nonprofits are scrambling to raise money to keep pace with the number of people seeking their services as a result of the weak economy, high unemployment and deep budget cuts. As these organizations ramp up their fundraising efforts, consumers who are solicited for charitable contributions are asked to keep the following information in mind before making any decision to donate.
Know Who You Are Donating To. The Solicitation of Contributions Act requires charities soliciting within the state of Florida to register and file financial information with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS); however, some exemptions do apply. Charitable organizations that solicit from a named individual, from members only, and religious and educational organizations are exempt from registration. Before donating, consumers should always request written information from a charitable organization. Consumers who are contacted by a charity should always ask for the organization's registration number. If the contact is being made by a professional solicitor who is calling on behalf of a charity, the paid solicitor also must be registered with DACS and should be able to provide you with their registration number. For current contact information, registration status or recent complaint history on charitable organizations and professional solicitors/fundraisers, visit the Business/Complaint Lookup or call 1-800-HELP-FLA (435-7352).
Determine How Your Donation May be Spent. Consumers should find out why the charity or organization is asking for donations. What purpose or purposes will be served? If the person requesting a donation is a professional solicitor, ask what percentage of your contribution will be going to this paid solicitor/fundraiser. It's also a good idea to contact the charity itself to make sure they have truly contracted with the professional solicitor. Search the online Gift Givers' Guide to determine what percentage of donations the charity will dedicate to general administration and fundraising expenses and what percentage will be used for the program services the consumer originally intended to support.
Avoid High Pressure Tactics. Agreeing to contribute to a charitable organization does not constitute a debt and consumers are under no obligation to follow through on a pledge. Consumers who do decide to contribute should never send cash or give out any of their personal financial information over the phone. Typically it is best to pay by check, made payable to the charity itself, not the solicitor. If a consumer decides to make a donation online, look for indicators that the site is secure, such as a URL that begins with "https:" (the "s" stands for secure).
Keep Good Records. Always obtain and save a printed copy of your donation or a receipt showing the amount of your contribution. If a tax deduction is important to you, be sure the receipt states that the donation is tax deductible. Even if an organization is tax exempt, your contribution may not be tax deductible. Ask for the charity's tax-exempt number issued by the Internal Revenue Service and call them for verification.
Reduce Telephone and Direct Mail Solicitations.
Consumers wanting to reduce the amount of solicitations they receive should:
- Include a note with the donation asking the charity not to rent, sell or exchange your personal information and donation history. If you're receiving too many inquiries, ask the organization to limit its donation requests to once or twice a year.
- While charitable organizations are exempt from the provisions of the "Do Not Call" statute, if a third-party telemarketer calls on behalf of a charity, request not to receive any further calls from, or on behalf of, that specific charity. Any further calls from a third-party telemarketer on behalf of that charity would constitute a violation of the Federal Trade Commission's Telemarketing Sales Rule.
- Opt-out of receiving unsolicited commercial mail and email from many national companies for five years by signing up for the Direct Marketing Association's Mail Preference Service and their Email Preference Service.
Remember…we're here to help! For additional information, contact the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services online or by calling 1-800-HELP-FLA (435-7352) within Florida, 1-800-FL-AYUDA (352-9832) en Español, or (850) 410-3800 from outside of Florida.