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Tips on Wise Giving: Ensuring Your Contribution Is Used Appropriately

Resource Center - Foundation

(June 14, 2013) Donors can help ensure that their charitable gift will be used ethically and effectively by following some easy and common-sense tips and guidelines.

“People around the world are generous, and there are many worthwhile causes and extraordinary charities that donors can support,” says Andrew Watt, FInstF, president and CEO of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP). “Nearly all charities you encounter will be legitimate and working effectively and efficiently, but by taking just a few precautions can help ensure your money goes to the cause intended and used in an appropriate and ethical way.”

Watt noted that new fundraising technology is forcing donors to take a little more time in making their giving decisions. “People can now easily set up their own websites to not only raise funds for different charitable efforts, but for specific individuals and families,” says Watt. “That’s an incredible advancement and a great way to raise funds, but it also means we have to be a little more careful in making sure these sites are legitimate.”

Watt recommends that donors take their time when deciding to make a gift and not respond to high-pressure requests. “Yes, charities need donations, and sometimes very quickly, but delaying your decision by 30 minutes or an hour to check elsewhere online, see what other organizations are doing and ensuring the solicitation is legitimate isn’t going to cause a problem. Always avoid high-pressure requests.”

Watt suggested the following tips and guidelines for donors when considering making a contribution:

  • Take your time in making giving decisions and resist high-pressure appeals. The faster the sales pitch, the more you should just say no.
  • Don’t be fooled by charities with worthy-sounding names, or names that might sound similar to other organizations.  Some questionable charities create names that are intended to sound like other well-known charities and mislead potential donors. 
  • Know the charity you are considering supporting. Ask the charity to send you a brochure or other published information. If the response is slow, reluctant or not forthcoming at all, consider a different charity.
  • Before making a gift, offer to volunteer your time to learn more about the organization and how it is run. If the response is less than enthusiastic, or you don’t like what you find, consider looking elsewhere to donate your time and money.
  • If you’re contacted by a telemarketer, ask if he or she is working for a percentage of the funds raised, is paid a set salary or fee or is a volunteer. If the telemarketer is taking a percentage of funds raised, hang up the phone. Percentage-based compensation is considered unethical.

“There are more than one and a half million charities across North America addressing almost every conceivable issue,” says Watt. “If donors have concerns about a charity, there are countless others that they can choose from and learn about, and I encourage them to do so.”

Watt also points to documents such as The Donor Bill of Rights, which explicitly lists the ten expectations that donors should have of charities when they make a contribution. AFP’s Code of Ethical Principles and Standards also highlights appropriate ethical conduct for fundraisers. By reviewing these documents at, donors will be more confident in their giving.

For more information about wise giving tips and what AFP is doing to educate donors, email

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