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Monday, February 3, 2020

Ask a Fundraiser: Why Do Some Charities Have Two Addresses?

You may have noticed that some charities have more than one address, either listed on their Charity Navigator rating page, the charity’s own website, or on a piece of mail or email that the charity sends to you. 

This has raised some questions and even made some of our users suspicious of these charities. But, there is a simple reason that charities have two addresses.

When a charity uses an alternate mailing address for donations, it typically means that the charity is asking you to send your check to a secure post office box to be processed outside of their headquarters. The amount of external processing that is done depends on the charity and what donation processing services they have acquired. This can range from simple check depositing to full-service processing, receipting, and associated data entry. 

Using a service to process checks and other donation-related information ensures charities can securely receive donations and it frees up the organization’s staff to focus on other mission-critical tasks.

Let’s think about the path that your gift takes from your checkbook all the way to when you receive a tax receipt for your donation. It starts with you, generously deciding to support your favorite charity. You write a check and mail it to the charity. Now, it’s out of your hands. 

If you sent your check to the charity’s office, they will typically receive it within seven business days. At the office, your check’s envelope will land on a development team member’s desk, who will search your name in the organization’s database. Then, they will manually enter your check’s information into the database, including the amount and date, as well as any other information you provided (updated address, request for anonymity, etc.). The system will create a tax receipt letter, which the development team member will need to print out, fold up, and place it into an envelope with the correct postage. Furthermore, to get your check into the charity’s bank account, the team member will need to create a deposit slip and physically bring it to the bank.

Now, consider the alternative to this process: you send your gift to the charity's designated address for donations, which happens to be a P.O. Box. The receiver at the gift center processes your check along with many others, producing scans and a spreadsheet with all of the information. Back in the office, the development team member logs into a secure server and downloads this information, which can be directly imported into the charity’s database (some services even add the data directly into the charity’s database, eliminating this step altogether). Since the check has already been put into the bank account, and an acknowledgment letter is automatically sent by the group handling the checks, there is no further action required of the charity’s staff. 

In busy seasons (especially around the holidays), charities may receive thousands of checks each week. As someone who has proudly stuffed thousands of letters into their corresponding envelopes, I can tell you that donation processing is incredibly time-consuming.

Ultimately, donation processing services help charities focus on their mission — it frees up their employees’ time to think strategically, find new ways to help their communities, and collaborate to solve our world’s most pressing issues. This is something that should be encouraged, not criticized.

As always, we recommend reaching out to the charities you support when you feel like something they are doing raises a question in your mind. It’s our experience that charities are incredibly open and always happy to hear from their valued donors. 

Is there anything this article didn’t answer? Let us know in the comments, and we may feature your question in a follow-up post.

Written by Megan Ritter, Development Manager at Charity Navigator.


Unknown said...

I specifically request "no Thank you note", and no receipt-waste of money and no gifts. How many mailing stickers do i really need? Another waste of money.

Unknown said...

thanks, I had wondered this.

Unknown said...

Thanks, I had wondered about those.

gpickholz said...

We post an alternate address because, candidly, we get a ton of hate mail and even confrontational visitors and protesters on a more than occasional basis. We live in a violent, anti-Semitic era. Unfortunately, it has become a necessary security decision.

Unknown said...

Thank you for explaining this so clearly. I always wondered about it, and now I know!

BL Worrilow said...

Well explained. Especially for the larger charities, and around the end of the year when they try to take advantage of the holiday spirit.

CarolA said...

This past year, I've noticed that when I get a thank you from a charity the amount of the donation is rarely included. I'm wondering if there is a reason for this.
Not all charities send a thank you.

Unknown said...


Thank you for this thought provoking article! Is there a list of charitable gift processing centers or more information about those who offer information about best practices? Looking forward to learning more and thank you.

Unknown said...

Thanks for confirming what I had always thought was the reasoning, at least as to processing donations separately from other charity org. business.

Unknown said...

This is extremely helpful! Thank you for the information.

Unknown said...

Why is one address rated 5 stars but the other one (that you may have sent to previously) is only rated 2??? This happened with the USO. Barbara Parks

Unknown said...

Is it better donate on line than writing a check does the charity benefit more if an on line donation?

Unknown said...

That was informative, concise, and thorough. I appreciate the explanation. Thank you.

chaosmanor said...

Actually, yes, this article, while very informative and useful, did not answer the real "bottom line" question.

What do processing services charge, and is this fee ultimately less than what paying a staff person (already on hire) would cost?

IOW: while I get the point, one has to wonder if processing services are really worth it. We never see any details on this. And, in an age where people are increasingly using credit cards to directly make donations, are there still really *that many* checks being used to make donations?

I, and I'm sure others, would really appreciate some numbers, some hard data, to support this article's conclusions. Thank you.

Sophia said...

Very Interesting and Informative Article. If you are donating money then you need to confirm these points:
1. Research the organization's accomplishments.
2. Ask about their mission and goal
3. Never donate over the phone.
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