You Need to Know
to Donate Safely
Donating online is a quick and convenient
way to give to charity, but it also comes with drawbacks that donors
need to be aware of. To help you donate online both effectively
and safely, CharityWatch provides the following pointers:
Know your charity. Online or offline never give
to a charity that you know nothing about. Look for a mission statement,
a clear description of program accomplishments and a list of the
board of directors. Do not assume a web address with a ".org"
rather than a ".com" ending is a non-profit organization.
Anyone can purchase a ".org" web address. To determine
if a group has tax-exempt status, go to the Internal
Revenue Services web site. The CharityWatch
web site also has more links
to other government regulators, databases of charity financial information
and other resources for charitable giving.
Obtain contact information. Make sure that you
have the option to contact the charity online (through a working
email address) and offline (through a phone number and a mailing
address). It may be necessary to contact the charity offline if
the internet or the charity's web site is not functioning properly.
Insist upon seeing a physical address to avoid scammers, who may
set up a flashy web site, raise a lot of money and disappear into
the anonymity of cyberspace. Also, it is better to support groups
with a physical address in the United States. Foreign groups that
solicit in the U.S. are subject to our laws and regulations but
it is very difficult for a U.S. regulator to enforce a court injunction
against a group operating outside of the country.
3. Look for
date of information. Some charities do not change the
information on their web sites for months or even years. Find out
when the information on a web page was last updated. Do not base
giving decisions on outdated information that may no longer be accurate.
Without verification of the date of the web page, you run the risk
of supporting an organization that has changed its purpose, programs
or is no longer in existence.
4. Give safely.
Before sharing any credit card information online, make
sure the site uses encryption technology to protect you. Check the
address bar on the page which requires sensitive information to
be posted. The URL should begin with "https." The "s"
stands for "secure" and indicates that sensitive information
will be encrypted and transmitted securely. If a charity keeps donors'
personal information on an online network, find out if it utilizes
firewalls or other technology to protect it from hackers. Also,
make sure whatever technology a charity uses to protect your information
from theft is up-to-date, since hackers may know how to defeat older
5. Give directly.
Why hand over a chunk of your contribution to a third party web
site when you can give directly through a charity's own site? If
the charity that you want to support does not offer online giving,
you may be able to give through JustGive
for Good. Be aware that these third party websites may charge
you a transaction fee, and charge the charity additional fees. Stay
away from sites that seek to earn interest on your donation by delaying
its transmission to the charity. One way these sites can hold your
contribution is by claiming that they have to receive a fixed amount,
such as $100, before they can send the money. If the site allows
you to give to hundreds of thousands of charities, your $25 donation
may sit in its bank account for awhile.
6. Protect your
not really safeguard your privacy. Before disclosing personal information,
especially your credit card number, find out how the site plans
to use your information and if it plans to sell it or exchange it.
It is not adequate protection for the charity to agree to not sell
your information, if its vendor operating the site does not also
agree to respect your privacy. Make sure that the charity gives
you an "opt in" or at least an "opt out" option.
An "opt in" option puts the burden on the charity to obtain
your permission before using your personal information for other
purposes. An "opt out" puts the burden on you to notify
the charity if you don't want your information used for other purposes.
If you are concerned about charities
being able to track your online activity, find out if they are placing
"cookies" on your hard drive. Cookies collect and send
bits of information from your browser back to the site of origin.
The information can reveal your identity and browsing history to
7. Keep paper
records. Print a copy of your final confirmation screen
or an email confirmation of your donation. If you do not receive
a confirmation notice, immediately notify the charity to see if
it received your contribution. It is a good idea to hold on to a
hard copy receipt in case your computer crashes at tax time.
8. Don't respond
to spam solicitations.
Spam is the junk mail of the online world. It is worse because it
costs nearly nothing to send and it can be very difficult to identify
its origin. Spam solicitations may contain links to web sites
of scammers that look like those of legitimate charities. Do not
forward to friends chain email solicitations. These chain letters
may contain old or unreliable information. Also do not believe an
email that promises a donation will be made to a charity every time
it is passed on. Be wary of email from unfamiliar sources that asks
you to reply if you do not want to receive their email. They may
be trying to see if your email address is active so they can sell
it to others and flood you with even more spam.
9. Don't be
intimidated by online giving. Online giving has the potential
for enormous good by saving billions of dollars in fundraising costs
and allowing charities to more efficiently communicate with donors.
If your favorite charities take adequate precautions, giving to
them online should be no more risky than handing a waiter in a restaurant
your credit card. By following these tips you can minimize the chance
of potential problems and have a safe and secure online giving experience.