by Don Howell
Most Americans donate to a charity or cause because of an affinity, studies show we spend billions each year doing so. That money can go a long way to insuring whether or not programs will have the funds necessary needed to play a sport, start a theater group, purchase new band equipment, or even exist for that matter.
Unfortunately there are people and groups that exist who take advantage of the current economic situation and exhibit unethical behavior in their fundraising practices. Recently there has been a surge in complaints about unscrupulous companies who false-promise, under perform or simply copy-cat what legitimate fundraisers are doing. Who can you trust? How do you know who is sharing an honest message? How can you be sure your program isn’t being taken advantage of financially? How do you protect your beloved sponsors?
First, always vet the company you are considering to hire or retain to help you with your fundraising efforts. Always make sure your sponsors are donating to a registered non-profit corporation to protect their tax-deductibility. Second, ask for a long list of references. Fifty or more. Call and actually speak to a few. Don’t accept a list of three or four they give you. These are their clients that they ‘want you to talk to.’ Instead call the ones that you select, randomly from a larger list.
When they tell you “we are a non-profit and your sponsors will receive a tax deductible receipt,” be sure to visit www.irs.gov to verify their non-profit status. Once at the IRS website, look up “Charities/Non-profits” and look for the company claiming to be a non-profit. If they are not there, they are not a non-profit and claiming to be or advertise as a non-profit is illegal. Unfortunately you will find many organizations claim to carry a non-profit status without having the proper IRS approval, putting you and your supporters at risk.
Other helpful points; ask your own questions. Don’t just settle for their marketing spiel. Visit their website and their Facebook page to get a feel for the organization. Facebook is great because you’ll see how the company and their employees engage with the public. See how many “Likes” they have. Plus if someone is unhappy with the company’s performance they may mention it there.
Do your homework and trust your gut. You are in charge and people trust you to make the best decision for your entire program. Take it seriously and make your pick, then report the wrong doers.