Charity fraud, perhaps above all other factors, is one of the most detrimental forces to goodwill toward nonprofits. As stories of generous and kindhearted donors having their virtues preyed upon by unscrupulous fraudsters proliferate, trust and confidence in donating give way to a lingering skepticism. No one likes to feel money has been stolen from them. Donors make their gifts because they wish to see the world become a better place and, therefore, are dismayed to learn that their act of generosity has been repaid with callous unkindness.
Being prepared to ask tough questions of the charities asking for money is the first step to protect yourself from being taken advantage of when a potential scammer or fake charity asks you to donate.
Are they a registered public 501(c)(3) organization?
Here at Charity Navigator, we always stress this question. Ask the charity what their Employer Identification Number (EIN) is. If they don’t have one -- don’t donate. Once they give you their EIN, you can find them on the Charity Navigator site. If you can't -- don’t donate. (Of course, there are brand new organizations who haven't yet filed their first Form 990, so ask if they're a newly opened organization, which would explain why they're not on the Charity Navigator site. Also, if an organization is fiscally sponsored, they will not be listed on our site, only their fiscal sponsor).
What’s in a name?
Taxpayers should be particularly wary of charities with names similar to nationally known organizations. Legitimate charities will provide their EIN if requested, which can be used to verify their legitimacy. Taxpayers can find legitimate and qualified charities with the Tax Exempt Organization Search (TEOS) tool on IRS.gov. Taxpayers can also use the tool to determine if the donations they make to an organization are tax-deductible charitable contributions.
Here are some things to know about the TEOS tool:
- It provides information about an organization’s federal tax status and filings.
- It’s mobile device friendly.
- Donors can use it to confirm that an organization is tax-exempt and eligible to receive tax-deductible charitable contributions.
- Users can find out if an organization had its tax-exempt status revoked.
- Organizations are listed under the legal name or a “doing business as” name on file with the IRS.
- The search results are sortable by name, EIN, state, and country.
- Users may also download entire lists of organizations eligible to receive deductible contributions, auto-revoked organizations, and e-Postcard filers.
- Taxpayers can also use the Interactive Tax Assistant, Can I Deduct my Charitable Contributions? to help determine if a charitable contribution is deductible.
What are the organization’s mission, goals, and history of success?
If a charity struggles to answer these questions, consider giving elsewhere. You want your donation to go far to support a cause you care about. Organizations should take the time to answer your questions -- your donation should be valuable to them, just like the time they spend building a relationship with you. If the fundraiser who contacts you refuses to answer these questions, leads you around in a circle, or tries to pass off these questions as not important, your donation will be better served elsewhere.
Seek out the charity’s website to validate their work. After storms and disasters of all kinds and capacities, individuals are likely to set up fake websites claiming to be a charity. Make sure you can find the nonprofit’s EIN somewhere on their website or donation page to know that the money is going to the right place. Most nonprofits also have .org websites rather than .com’s.
Use Charity Navigator
As donors understandably begin to harden their hearts to appeals for donations, nonprofits and their constituents lose out. Almost twenty years ago, the founders of Charity Navigator envisioned an unbiased and transparent source of information that would assist givers in finding charities to support. Our ratings exist to help assure donors that the nonprofit they want to support is financially responsible and employs good governance to ensure that their donations will be used responsibly in the delivery of their mission.
In addition, Charity Navigator protects donors from reported or confirmed misconduct at nonprofits by providing unbiased and objective information that can be used to inform giving decisions. Our Advisory System also publicly identifies entities masquerading as legitimate charities.