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How to Give to Charity

Almost every charity you encounter will be legitimate and working hard to fulfill its mission and provide critically needed services to the community. Nevertheless, it pays to take your time when giving to charity for two key reasons.

First, donors can help ensure that their charitable gift will go to a legitimate organization and will be used ethically and effectively by following some easy and common-sense tips and guidelines below.

Second, donors can get more out of their giving by spending a little time thinking about the causes that are most important to them. After all, with the growth of the charitable sector, donors now have many choices to make as they select which organizations to support with their dollars and time.

There is no right or wrong way to choose a charity. Many donors support a charity because it helped out one of their family members. Others support a charity because friends asked them to give or volunteer for the organization. Or perhaps they've long admired the charity's work and now want to support it financially.

AFP's Giving Guides don't provide specific steps on how to choose a charity to support. But they do provide some perspective on what to look for in an organization and how to approach the ideas of giving and volunteering. Individuals are encouraged to download the appropriate guide (U.S. version and a Canada version) and use it as they consider their giving decisions.

Tips and Guidelines for Giving to Charity

  • Take your time in making giving decisions and resist high-pressure appeals. The faster the sales pitch, the more you should just say no. Legitimate charities don’t need money at the exact moment a solicitation is made. Ideally, donors should always ask for written information (especially during a telephone solicitation) about the charity before they give. The request will give donors more time to find out about the charity and resist the temptation to give on a whim.
  • 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 promote the goals of the charity and 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.
  • Ask a telemarketer 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.
  • Use the Donor Bill of Rights. This document was created by a group of philanthropic and fundraising organizations dedicated to the advancement of ethical and effective fundraising. Know your rights, and challenge the charities you support to uphold them. If they don’t, tell them you expect them to do so, or you’ll consider giving elsewhere.
  • Develop a giving plan. Develop a giving plan of how much, when and to whom you will give. In addition, giving more to a few causes also tends to increase the overall value of contributions. Deciding on when to give is also important. More than a third of all charitable giving occurs in the last three months of the year. But giving during the rest of the year is critical too, as some charities often struggle for funds in spring and summer.
  • Ensure that the fundraiser and the charity operate under a code of ethical standards. AFP members are required to abide by and sign annually the AFP Code of Ethical Principle and Standards. These standards or similar ones, can provide confidence that the charity and the fundraiser are legitimate and providing the highest level of ethical service to donors.



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