Hennepin County Attorney warns Minnesotans ‘Take caution during season of giving’

During the holiday season, we are often inundated with annual giving requests and other charitable appeals. Minnesotans are generous, and that’s a testament to the kind of people that make up this great state.

However, some people try to take advantage of others’ good intentions, so it’s important to be careful about your giving. Before making a donation to a charity, do some research.


Charity Research Tips

Some charity scams involve using a name very close to a well-known and well-regarded organization. Look the organization up and make sure the name and address of the organization soliciting the donation before writing a check.

There are also some good online systems to help you assess whether or not a charity is legitimate by providing access to documents, such as the IRS Form 990, and information about the organization’s mission, leadership and finances. Reviewing this information can help you determine whether or not a nonprofit is in compliance with state and federal laws. It also gives you a better sense of how the organization spends its dollars.

A good place to start is the Minnesota Attorney General’s charity search. It searches charitable organizations that are registered with the Charities Division of the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office and provides information from their financial documents.

Another good resource is GuideStar, a national organization that is dedicated to increasing transparency in charitable giving. Their database combines information supplied by the nonprofit with other records, such as the previously mentioned Form 990, to provide snapshots about any organization registered with the IRS. Anyone can perform the basic search; members can view the documents and get a detailed view of an organization. Membership is free, but does require registration.

One last resource that might be useful for safe and informed giving is the Minnesota-based nonprofit, the Charities Review Council. Their website includes tips for donors, as well as information on some basic standards for nonprofits in the areas of public disclosure, governance, financial activity, and fundraising. They also list which Minnesota charities have been reviewed and meet these standards. Unlike the other databases referenced above, nonprofits have to opt-in and successfully complete the review process.


Protect Your Personal Info

Here a few reminders about protecting your personal information as a donor:

Use a personal check or credit card, not cash, for your donation. Make the check out to the

charity, not individual raising funds. Never provide your credit card number unless you call the charity yourself or donate online.

If you encounter a door-to-door solicitor, they must displays specific disclosures about the organization they are raising funds for – the name and location of the organization, whether the funds are tax deductible and a description of how the funds will be used. Also, you can request they leave written materials about the charity and its programs, so you can review them at your convenience and make a donation online or by mail.

If you receive unsolicited email appeals, be cautious. Reputable charities will not request confidential information and have secure online giving portals if they solicit donations on their website. Do not click on links asking for private information like passwords, credit card numbers and bank account numbers.

If you donate online, make sure the website is secure. Look for “https” in the web address or a lock icon at the top or bottom of your browser. If you cannot locate these, you are better off sending a check or calling the organization to inquire about the security of their online giving platform.

Giving what you can to help those who are less fortunate is a wonderful impulse. Keep all of this information in mind so your generosity can make a positive impact.