Q: I have been noticing more donation bins being set up around the city, and have heard issues with some benefiting local nonprofits and others that benefit out-of-area nonprofits. How do I know which will use my donations best?
A: As various metal donation bins in a variety of colors pop up around the city, there has been recent news and concern regarding where the donations go. Some of the bins are not clearly labeled on which charity is benefiting from your particular donation, and you may need to do some homework before placing your items in the bins to know where and who your donation is ultimately benefiting.
It turns out that some of the bins are local nonprofits who use the donation to further help the local community, but others happen to benefit out-of-town charities to further their missions. It is your choice who you donate to, but as always BBB recommends doing your research thoroughly before making any contributions to be sure that your donations and dollars are going to the charity you intend.
BBB offers the following tips before donating to a charity, whether it is your money, items or time:
• Do your research. It is important to thoroughly vet the charity you plan to donate to in order for your donation to help the cause you want. Verify a charity's name, address, and contact information. Be aware of scammers who try to use similar sounding names to trick you into donating to their "charity," or really their own pockets.
Rely on expert opinion when it comes to evaluating a charity.
Be cautious when relying on third-party recommendations such as bloggers or other websites, as they may not have fully researched the relief organizations they list. The public can go to www.bbb.org/charity to research charities and relief organizations and verify that they are accredited by the BBB and meet the BBB Wise Giving Alliance 20 Standards for Charity Accountability.
Be wary of claims that 100 percent of donations will go to the particular cause.
Despite what an organization might claim, charities have fund raising and administrative costs. Even a credit card donation will involve, at a minimum, a processing fee. If a charity claims 100 percent of collected donations will go directly to help the cause, dig deeper for the truth, it may be that the organization probably incurs fund raising and administrative expenses. It may use some of its other funds to pay these costs, but the expenses will still be incurred.
Find out if the charity is providing direct help or is raising money for other groups. Some charities may be raising money or receiving donations to pass along to other charity organizations. If so, you may want to consider "avoiding the middleman" and giving directly to those that have a presence in the region.
• Donating items. In addition to money, many organizations solicit for material donations including coats, toys, and canned goods to redistribute or set up in a local thrift shop as a way to help the community. Whatever you are donating, make sure the items are of good condition and that the recipient charity is accepting such items to help further its cause.
• Give when you shop. Many charities have had great success partnering with businesses that agree to donate some amount of the purchase price from sales of items to a worthy cause. This type of cause-related marketing means that you can help while you shop. Check if the promotion identifies the actual or anticipated amount of the purchase price the charity will receive. Also some businesses, like grocery stores, ask if you want to donate to a charity and have that amount added to your receipt. This is also called "embedded giving." Inquire if the embedded promotion states which specific charity will receive the collected funds.
• Give through text messaging. After texting a message to a number, the donation is tacked on to your cell phone bill. While donating via text is fast and easy for the donor, the actual money can take 60 to 90 days to reach the charity since the funds are forwarded after you pay the donation charge on your next monthly cell phone bill. Of course, charities welcome donations at any time during the year. For more information on Mobile Giving and a list of participating charities visit: http://www.bbb.org/us/charity/mobile-giving-foundation/
• Give your time. In today's economy, you may not have money, but you can always give a little bit of your time to help support a worthy cause. In addition to volunteering, you can also be a vocal supporter of a charity and help raise awareness among friends and family and on your social media or blog.
The BBB Wise Giving Alliance reports on more than 1,200 national charitable organizations at www.bbb.org/charity and determines if they meet the 20 accountability standards addressing governance, finances and fund raising practices.
To review charity evaluations and get more advice on donating, visit www.bbb.org/charity.
Jim Winsett is president of the Better Business Bureau of Chattanooga.