That charity may be legitimate, but does it deserve your donation?

Giving Tuesday has become an important part of fundraising for a lot of non-profits, but make sure to research charities so you don't get scammed.
Published: Nov. 29, 2022 at 1:12 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- The cost of food is way up, even for food banks like St. Mary’s in Phoenix, that buy in bulk. “A box of macaroni was 48 cents last year. It’s 72 cents this year,” said Jerry Brown, a spokesperson for the food bank.

The need is also up. Last year at this time, St. Mary’s was helping 600 families a day. This year, according to Brown, the organization is helping 1,100 families daily.

“We’re buying more food. It’s costing more. And it’s going out to more families,” Brown said. “That puts a lot of strain on the food bank. It’s unsustainable over a long period of time, but we’re hanging in there, doing what we can to make sure every family is fed.”

Giving Tuesday will help meet the demand. “We definitely see an uptick in donations on Giving Tuesday. It’s a fantastic day,” Brown said. St. Mary’s has a 4-star rating on Charity Navigator, a site that tracks non-profit cost-effectiveness. But for all of the top-rated charities doing good work, like St. Mary’s, there are also non-profits that may not deserve your donation.

“There are a lot of very scammy charities out there that sort of exist just to enrich fundraising companies, and they will target causes that are really popular,” said Laurie Styron, the executive director of Charity Watch, another non-profit that tracks charities.

According to Styron, there is a big difference between being a “good” non-profit and a “legitimate” one. To be “legitimate,” a charity just has to be registered and in good standing with the IRS. “There are no laws mandating that a charity has to spend a minimum percentage of your donation on their programs, so the difference between and outright fraud – a scammer - and a legitimate, but highly inefficient charity might only be the difference between none of your donation being spent on programs and 1% or 2% of your donation being spent on programs,” she said.

To protect your donations, Charity Watch cautions against charities that claim 100% of donations go directly to programming. “It’s just not possible,” Styron said. “All charities, even highly efficient charities, have some overhead. You should also research the charity. Ask them for their latest annual report and review it. Give directly to the charity, rather than a third-party website or middleman.

It’s also important to avoid making decisions on a tight deadline or under pressure. “Instead of waiting to be asked and then having to react and try to understand if that’s a worthy cause or a worthy person to help, be proactive,” Styron suggested. “Think about what’s important to you. Find a good charity working in that cause and support that organization.”