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‘Let the gift-giver beware’

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- The holiday season is a time for giving, and many charities step up their appeals this time of year. Make certain your donations go to charities worthy of your support.

When an unfamiliar organization asks you to make a donation, don’t be too quick to make a decision. Instead, plan your giving and always demand accountability of the charities receiving your gift. If you are in doubt, check out the organization with your Better Business Bureau.

You have time to think when you receive a charitable appeal by mail. But there usually isn’t time to think when the doorbell or telephone rings or when the street solicitor holds out the hat.

Whether on the phone, at the front door or on the street, ask for the charity’s full name and address. Get full identification from the solicitor. Give the identification more than a passing glance. Appeals should identify the charity and clearly describe the programs. Make checks payable to the name of the charitable organization and not an individual.

Don’t be pressured into giving on the spot. Legitimate charities want your money today—and tomorrow. If the solicitor uses high-pressure tactics such as intimidation, harassing calls or visits, contact your BBB to file a complaint or call your local police department.

Statements such as “all proceeds will go to charity” can be misleading. What is left after expenses—the proceeds—may be just pennies. Ask how much of your gift will fund the charity’s programs. If the sale of items such as candy, magazines or books is involved, make sure you find out the exact amount the charity will receive.

With mail appeals, keep in mind it is against the law to demand payment for unordered merchandise. If the charity sends you merchandise, you are not obligated to return it or pay for it. 

In the case of large gifts, it is always best to request a copy of the organization’s annual report, list of board members, and the latest financial statement of the organization before contributing. And if you have any doubts about the organization, contact your local BBB for a report.

(Information compiled from the Better Business Bureau.)