Through the holidays, our reliance on nonprofit organizations multiplies. These organizations provide needed services to people day in and day out, all year long, but they do more of it at this time of year. As communities, we rely on soup kitchens, homeless shelters, relief organizations like the Red Cross and Salvation Army, food distribution programs like Harvest Hope, civic, fraternal and religious organizations to provide shelter, food and spiritual sustenance. We count on nonprofits to make the holidays brighter for those who are homebound, disabled, elderly, down on their luck or in need of a helping hand. Nonprofits are champions for the disadvantaged, the sick and the young. They are the voice for our open space, forest, rivers, animal life and historic landmarks. They are gatherers of community resources, channels for philanthropic ideals, a neutral ground for solving problems and committed advocates for needed change.
As we rely on nonprofits throughout the year to make our communities a better place to live, nonprofits in turn rely on us throughout the year to help and support their causes.
Public trust is the foundation of the nonprofit sector. Without this trust, people would not donate to their favorite causes and volunteers would not give of their time. However, donors have a right -- and a responsibility -- to ask questions about the people and organizations that are asking for their support and about how their contributions will be used. Informed donors are the best defense against fraud and the most valuable asset of responsible charities.
Following are some ways donors can protect themselves and their investments in charities:
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• Be an informed donor. Whether you receive a mail, telephone or e-mail solicitation, whether you learn about a charity from a friend or family member or whether you seek out an organization on your own, get informed about giving. Learn about the organization and its operations, governance and finances. Visit the organization's website or call to get more information. Give only when you feel comfortable that your dollars will be going to support an organization you know and believe in.
Consult reports from charity "watchdog" organizations. Contact the S.C. Secretary of State's office at 1-888-CHARITI or www.scsos.com; Guidestar, the National Database for Nonprofit Organizations at www.guidestar.org; the BBB Wise Giving Alliance at www.give.org, or others.
• Don't give your credit card number over the phone if you don't know the person or organization requesting the gift. If you are interested in the cause, ask for information in writing.
1. The name of the charity, address, phone number;
2. The caller's name and company and whether he or she is a volunteer or paid professional fundraiser; and
3. Written information on the operations, finances and outcomes of the charity's programs.
• Refuse high-pressure tactics. Responsible charities don't pressure you to make a decision on the spot. Refuse to respond to callers who try to intimidate you or make you feel guilty if you don't give.
• Beware of sound-alike names. Some phony fund raisers use names that sound a lot like respected legitimate charities.
• Focus on results, not on fund-raising ratios. The way charities raise money and carry out their programs varies widely, depending on the type of cause, the region the nonprofit operates in, the age of the charity, the "popularity" of the cause and many other factors. This means that there is no ideal fund-raising percentage, nor standard administrative cost that applies to all charities. What's most important is the organization's track record in achieving results and fulfilling its mission effectively and efficiently. Only by learning more about the organization can you determine for yourself whether you believe the organization is doing a good job and thus merits your support.
Charitable impulses run deep in South Carolina. Our citizens give more of their annual income to charitable causes than the national average. In a time when charities are seeing increases in the requests for their services, your support, both in time and resources, is sorely needed. In this holiday season please remember to support our local nonprofits with your time and money. We all will benefit.
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