On becoming a wise donor

‘Tis the season for donor discretion. The greater-good instinct to contribute to charitable causes doesn’t need to be repressed because of a few wicked actors. The key is to approach giving like an investment, with all the requisite safeguards and a most-for-your-money standard.

“Washingtonians are very generous,” Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman said. “Many of us give money to help those in need, whether it’s here or around the world. Unfortunately, people can be victimized by scammers if they aren’t cautious and do their homework before they give. We want to help people avoid having that happen to them.”

Wyman has teamed with Attorney General Bob Ferguson and the AARP to disseminate tips to curtail scams. Seniors are the most vulnerable, especially with commercial fundraisers. The abuse is significant enough that the AARP has its own fraud-fighting director, Jean Mathisen.

“Solicitors may come door-to-door, stand on street corners or in shopping malls, advertise in newspapers or on the radio, send letters or emails, or call on the phone,” Mathisen said. “You may feel pressured to give money on the spot, before you have a chance to think. But while it’s good to give, it’s just as important to give wisely.”

The Office of the Secretary of State’s Charities Program annually releases statistics in its Commercial Fundraiser Activity Report. Charities that employ commercial fundraisers snare 46 percent of contributions. That statistic is identical to 2012, although a contrast to 2011 when such charities garnered 56 percent.

Ferguson offers a series of wise-giving tips. These include: Ask the caller to send written information about the organization; beware if the caller offers to send a courier to collect your donation immediately; don’t give in to high-pressure solicitations that demand an instant commitment, just hang up; if you decide to donate, write a check and make it payable to the charity; never send cash or give your credit card or bank account number; and don’t be fooled by a name. Some organizations use similar-sounding names, or names that closely resemble those of respected, well-established charities.

“Investigating the charity before giving will help ensure you don’t get scammed,” said Ferguson.

Ferguson and Wyman suggest contributors contact charities directly. Locally, trustworthy options are United Way of Snohomish County and the Greater Everett Community Foundation. United Way tailors donations to a consumer’s individual interest, whether it’s literacy, homelessness — you name it.

You can contact the Secretary of State’s Charities’ Hotline at I-800-332-4483 with questions. If a consumer believes he or she has been scammed, contact the Attorney General’s office at 1-800-551-4636.

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