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The team from Charity Navigator, the nation's largest independent charity evaluator and leading donor advocate, shares their thoughts on emerging nonprofit-sector issues and offers tips to better inform your intelligent giving decisions.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Charity Navigator's Guide to Spotting a Fake Charity


Why do you give? Because it feels good to give back to a cause you’re passionate about, right? 

There are so many great organizations hard at work to make our world a better place. However, there are always a few bad apples ready to ruin the joy in giving for everyone. And that’s why Charity Navigator is here! We offer all of our charity evaluations, tools, and resources to you completely free of charge to help you give confidently. With Charity Navigator you can give generously, knowing your gift will go to organization that will use it to do the most good.

Today we’re sharing a few tips to help you spot a fake charity before you give.



Overwhelmingly, charities exist to make our world a better place. Unfortunately, there are always a few bad organizations out there to take advantage of donors’ generosity. But don’t fear! Spotting a fake a charity is not as hard as it sounds. With these quick tips and your detective’s hat you’ll have all the tools you need.

Crisis and Disaster Giving

Following a crisis or disaster, we all feel that knee-jerk reaction to give. We see people in distress and our hearts go out to them. We want to do something.

Following a disaster, be wary of organizations you haven’t heard of approaching you for a donation. These situations provide the perfect opportunity for fake charities to pop up. Before you give take a moment to do some research. Look for a reputable organization working on the ground to help those in trouble. Charity Navigator’s Hot Topics list provide timely lists of organizations serving communities in need of assistance.

Online Giving

Use common internet safety practices to protect yourself from online scams. Be smart about the email solicitations you open and respond to. Beware of requests for overseas donation. Always look for an authorized website. And be sure to donate through a secure site.

You can find more tips for protecting yourself from an online scam on our website.

When the Phone Rings

It’s not uncommon for charities to solicit donors over the phone. If you receive one of these calls, be sure you understand who the organization and where your donation is going. Do not feel pressured to give over the phone. You can always use the call as an opportunity to ask for more information about the charity.

You can find more tips for handling phone solicitations on our website.

Tax-Exempt Status

All legitimate charitable organizations are required to register with the IRS. When they do so they are provided with a Employer Identification Number (EIN). Asking for an organization’s EIN is a great way to quickly identify a fake charity. Most fake charities will not have an EIN.

If the organization is able to provide you with an EIN, you can plug it into Charity Navigator’s search bar to pull up the charity’s profile. Note: Not all organization will have a rating (we only evaluate 9,000 organizations at this time). 

An organization may have also been given a different tax-exempt status. Only organization’s with a 501(c)(3) status are guaranteed to be fully tax-exempt. Organization’s with other statuses may be legitimate but gifts to these charities may not be tax-deductible. Always asking the organization which portion of your gift is tax-deductible before donating.

Gut Check

Like so many things in life, if your gut is telling you something’s fishy it probably is. You should never feel obligated to make a gift. If you’re feeling pressured in any way, step back and take the time you need to research the organization and make a decision you’re comfortable with. A legitimate organization will always provide a means for you to give on your own time.

It is important to recognize that the vast majority of charity’s are hard at work to improve our world and address it’s challenges. It is always wise, however, to do your research before giving. Especially when something seems too good to be true. Don’t forget that Charity Navigator offers more than 9,000 charity evaluations as well as tools and resources to help you give confidently. And, our team is always available to answer any questions you may have about giving.

2 comments:

Viola said...

Thank you for your work on our behalf. I am past board member of a local humane society and understand a small part of the work involved in rescuing and rehabilitating abused animals.

I am grateful for your breakdown of costs, esp admin; there are several charities to which i no longer contribute because they do not use their donations for direct care to the animals. Admin expense should be less than or = to 5%.

Mimi Sul said...

Thank you- good tips