Charitable donations are important to the economy and society because they provide funding for important causes and community services. However, consumers should always do a little homework before donating to charity. One of the most important considerations is to determine how much of your donation is actually going to the service or cause you care about.
Often, charities raise funds through telemarketing. While telemarketers are sometimes volunteers or employees of the charity, they can also be professional solicitors that are paid by the charities to raise funds on their behalf. You should ask the telephone solicitor how much of every dollar will go directly back to the charity.
The Truth about Professional Solicitation
There are no laws regulating the percentage professional fundraisers have to give back to the charity and often there is little oversight over professional solicitors.
Professional solicitation is an industry and its function is that of any other business - to make money. Professional solicitors are hired to raise money for charities; they are not employees of the charities or volunteers. Often they are trained to use vague language that may confuse or even deceive potential donors in order to solicit donations.
To view more information regarding professional solicitation in Massachusetts, see the Report on Professional Solicitations for Charity.
In order to maximize the value of your donation, it is generally better to avoid donating money via telemarketing solicitations altogether. Never feel obligated to donate money to anyone who calls you. You should select the charities you would like to donate to - do not allow them to select you.
Hang Up the Phone, or Ask for a Written Request
If a person calls you on the phone soliciting on behalf of a charity, it is entirely reasonable for you to ask for written materials with more information and for the charity's website. You should never be afraid to simply say "no thank you." You should never feel miserly for refusing to donate through a professional solicitor. It is generally more beneficial for the charity if you donate directly to them because a larger percentage of your money goes directly to the charity and its cause.
The Path to Informed Giving
If you are passionate about a certain cause, or would like to donate to a specific charity, there are ways to do so that will maximize the value of your contribution.
Do some research to find charities that support the cause important to you. Look online for local chapters of charities and contact them directly to determine the best way to contribute so that the largest percentage of your donation goes directly to the cause.
Visit our Donating Dos and Don'ts Guide for more tips on Giving Wisely.
If you are unsure whether a charity is deserving of your support, visit our website at www.mass.gov/ago/charities or call the AGO's Non-Profit Organizations/Public Charities Division at (617) 963-2101 to find out if the charity and its fundraiser are registered to operate in the Commonwealth. The AGO does not endorse specific charities but does collect financial information which is available for public inspection on our website.
You may also wish to review the organization’s federal Form 990 on the IRS website at https://www.irs.gov/charities-non-profits/tax-exempt-organization-search.