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Flower-arranging class for seniors
A flower-arranging class for seniors at the nonprofit San Diego Oasis.

Many charitable organizations hold year-end or holiday giving campaigns to rally last-minute giving, and they have done so with success for decades. Year-end giving has helped countless nonprofits, including my organization San Diego Oasis, end the year on a positive note with a final burst of fundraising before turning the page to a new year with new fundraising goals.

In most cases, no matter your motivation for donating funds at the end of the year, your financial gifts are needed, appreciated and distributed with great discernment and consideration by the organizations you support. But unfortunately, not every “charitable” organization that solicits your support is genuine.

With so many requests for support filling our mailboxes and inboxes this time of year — and amid the hustle and bustle of the holidays — how do we go about deciding what causes to support? How can we be sure we know where our contributions are going?

Almost a third of annual giving takes place in the month of December, according to Nonprofit Tech for Good, and that makes sense for a few reasons. First, the holiday season is typically a time of reflection that inspires us to help others. It feels good to contribute.

Second, and perhaps most conspicuous, the year-end period of charitable giving can help taxpayers reduce tax burdens. Financial donations to charitable organizations on or before Dec. 31 can be deductible when filing your taxes.

What’s more, with the 2012 introduction of Giving Tuesday, known as the “global day of giving” following Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday, nonprofits have yet another opportunity to mobilize supporters toward the end of the year. 

Navigating Year-End Giving Safely

If you don’t have a plan in place for year-end giving, it might be easy to become distracted with all the email, phone and direct mail donation solicitations coming your way. If caught off guard, you may be more inclined to open your wallet without much consideration. Before you make another donation in 2022, run through this checklist to avoid charitable giving scams:

  • Whenever possible, give to an organization you are familiar with. If you’re unfamiliar with an organization that is requesting a donation, your first question should be about its 501(c)3 status. (“Are you a registered 501(c)3 organization?” or “What’s your Federal Tax ID [or EIN] number?”) This will give you information to verify online, whether you Google the name and see what pops up in the results, or take it a step further by verifying the information on Charity Navigator or a similar resource.
  • See if the person you’re communicating with can easily answer questions about the organization. Ask questions about the organization’s history, mission and goals. The organizational representative should be more than happy to answer your questions, understanding them as a critical part of developing trust with a prospective donor. You should never feel rushed or pressured to make a donation.
  • Practice good “cyber hygiene.” It sounds like common sense, but it bears repeating. Don’t click on links or open email attachments from someone you don’t know. Don’t provide any personal information in response to an email, robocall or robotext. Check the organization’s website address; most charitable organizations’ website URLs end in .org and not .com. If something seems off, it probably is.
  • Understand the differences that can exist between charitable giving and crowdfunding. With crowdfunding, funds raised often go to the campaign organizer, not directly to the people or the cause the campaign was established to help. According to the FTC, “the organizer is expected to tell you the truth about what the money raised is for and how it will be used, but it’s up to them to deliver on that promise. Scammers and dishonest business people can set up crowdfunding campaigns to raise money for themselves.” Keep in mind that only donations to a charity are tax deductible, so if a charity is asking for support on a crowdfunding campaign, confirm that the organization is registered as a charity with the IRS before you open your wallet.

Charity Navigator is a great resource for investigating a charitable organization asking for your support; Guidestar and the IRS website are others. You can report charity scams to the Federal Trade Commission at ReportFraud.ftc.gov or the National Association of State Charity Officials at nasconet.org.

To learn more about assessing charitable giving scams, San Diego Oasis has technology demonstrations and one-on-one sessions available to help. We offer classes via Zoom and in-person. To register for an upcoming session or for more information on San Diego Oasis, visit sandiegooasis.org

Simona Valanciute is the President and CEO of San Diego Oasis, a nonprofit organization serving people age 50 and better, who pursue healthy aging through lifelong learning, active lifestyles, and community service.

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Ellen Bullock