When You Give, Put Your Money Where Your Heart Is
Friday, September 18, 2015
Canadians are a giving people. Where we see a need, we have a strong desire to help. In 2012, Canadians donated $8.6 billion dollars to charitable and non-profit organizations.
There are lots of reasons why we give--to contribute to the well being of our neighbours, to help those in need, to pay for medical care for others, or to fund research for a disease that may have affected loved ones.
Sometimes it feels like the need is greater than the amount of your donation budget. The phone rings continually around dinnertime. Canvassers are always knocking at the door. Your mailbox is stuffed with letters requesting aid.
How do you know where to exercise your altruistic side? How can you be sure your generous donation is used for the good work you wish to support?
Here are some tips to help you make charitable choices that feel right for you.
Create a Charity Giving Plan
At the beginning of the year, make a Charity Giving Plan that sets out how much you will give through the year and to which charities you will donate. Take the time to identify which causes are most important to you and your family, and consider the changes that you want to affect with your donations. As you make your donations, be sure to write them down in your plan.
When you are asked to give to a charity that is not part of your plan, explain that you have a Charity Giving Plan and that your donation dollars have been allotted for the year. You may even want to detail to the caller or the canvasser the charities you have already made donations to.
From time to time, there may be charities not listed on your plan to which you want to donate. In this case, you might set aside a certain amount for unplanned donations.
Be selective in your generosity
Once you identify the charity or charities engaged in a cause that you are passionate about, focus your donation dollars on only a few. Spreading your money across multiple organizations means that your mailbox will receive multiple appeals, wasting money on postage and processing. It also means that your donation dollars are spread so thin that they do very little toward making a real impact.
Answering the call or the door
Charities often solicit donations by telephone or in person. People who solicit donations are often volunteers. But some canvassers or telephone solicitors are not. They work for profit-making businesses that are paid to collect money for charity. This is not illegal, but costs money, which dilutes charitable donations. The charity may get less than 20% of what is donated.
If you are concerned about the legitimacy of a charity, you can ask a few strategic questions before making your decision:
- Can my contribution be claimed as an income tax donation credit? If it can, ask for the charity's registration number. You can check this on the Canada Revenue Agency's website or by contacting them by phone. A receipt for your donation is only tax deductible if an official charitable receipt is issued. Note a charity registration number includes the letters "RR".
- What is your charity’s full name and address, who sits on the Board, and how long has your charity been in existence?
- Can I see some identification? You can call the organization to make sure the person is legitimate.
- Are you a volunteer or working for a commercial fundraiser?
- Will my donation stay within my city or province?
- What percentage of my donation will go to the charity, to administration expenses and if there is one involved, to the commercial fundraiser? If you want to be sure that 100% of your donation goes to the charity, it’s best to contact the organization directly and donate that way.
Do your homework
The best way to make sure your donation is used in the way you want it to be is to inform yourself. Check the information provided by the canvasser or telemarketer with the charity. Ask for information such as brochures describing the charity's work or annual reports.
Confirm that the charity is registered with Canada Revenue Agency. You can find a charity's Public Information Return, which provides information about the charity's financial performance. You can also look up the organization on the Internet or in the phone book, or check the organization with your local Better Business Bureau.
What to watch for
- Some groups have names that are very close to the names of well-known charities. If you think you’ve heard it before, check it before opening your wallet.
- Not all organizations that ask for donations are charities. For example, businesses calling to collect used clothes and furniture may be for-profit businesses.
- Never give out personal/financial information such as your credit card number over the telephone.
- Never hand over cash. Charitable donations should be made by cheque payable to the charity, not to an individual.
- Don't be swayed by pressure to donate immediately. Legitimate charities will be around for the long term, and they will always need donations.
- Don't give in to the lure of a free gift with a donation. A gift can reduce the amount of your income tax deduction.
Giving in times of crisis
With the rise in natural disasters, countries at war, and immigrants desperate to take refuge in developed countries, the need for global aid is vast. While giving to these causes is extremely important, an international crisis presents the perfect opportunity for unscrupulous charities to take advantage of your goodwill.
Deal only with charities that have a proven track record of success in dealing with the type of disaster and in the region in which the disaster occurred. They have the infrastructure and local knowledge to ensure your gift hits the right mark.
It is popular to donate by text – but think before you do. While texting can be a great way to give, there may be additional costs, and it can take as long as 90 days for the charity to receive your donation.
Where to find information and assistance
Consumer Protection Branch
(416) 326-8800 or toll-free 1-800-889-9768
Get information on how to choose a worthwhile charity. Access the Consumer Lookout for information on typical scams and advice.
Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee
Charitable Property Program
(416) 326-1963 or toll-free 1-800-366-0335
This office investigates complaints about misuse of funds by charities and protects the public's interest on how charities raise and use their money.
Canada Revenue Agency
You can go to this link to verify a charity's registration number.
Keep in mind that it’s your money. You have the right to say “no”. If you have doubts for any reason, take the time to educate yourself about the charity requesting financial aid, and decide later if your heart is telling you to support it or not.
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