The holidays are the top time of the year for donations and gift giving to charities… but which charities do you donate to? Have you been considering a charitable donation, but realized it’s very hard to tell the scams from the real charities? Read on for our five-step guide on how to tell the good from the bad.
Step 1: Look at the website. You can learn a lot about the legitimacy or illegitimacy of an organization from its website. Does the website explain what they do? Does it list contact information and a physical address? Is there specific information about how the money or donations are used? If a website lacks basic information and seems vague about programs or details it may be suspicious.
Step 2: Contact the charity over the phone. Faking a website to look like a legitimate charity isn’t that hard, but providing phone communications which emulate how a real charity works is far more difficult. Is there a hard sell to get you to donate? If so, pass this one by. If they answer the phone and can’t explain who they are or what they do without you telling them “who you’re calling for” then it’s a sign they may not be what they claim.
Step 3: Use online resources. Online websites such as Charity Navigator  or Just Give  allow you to research charities to see detailed information about a charities’ financial and governance policies. These websites will only display legitimate charities which have been vetted.
Step 4: Never pay in cash & look for https. A legitimate charity will never ask you to mail cash or mail a check made out to cash to them; if that’s an option or recommendation, leave immediately. If you go to an online form to donate and the site isn’t https:// where you enter your credit card information, it’s a sign they either lack security or are not a legitimate charity.
Step 5: Avoid raffles/prizes. This step doesn’t always apply, as many legitimate charities will offer prizes or raffles, but be VERY suspicious and ask for details. Sometimes companies donate a car or an expensive piece of electronics knowing silent auctions or charity giveaways can net the charity more money than a cash donation of the same value. The problem is scam sites often will exploit people’s want to do good and be rewarded, so they offer a chance to win popular items for a small donation. One notable exception is HumbleBundle  which offers games from independent game companies as a bundle where the proceeds can be directed to a number of charities like Child’s Play  or the EFF .
Using these simple tips can help you make sure your donation or good will goes to the right people.