Safe Volunteerism and Charity OnlineKim Boatman
For the Harrell family of Fremont, Calif., charity will begin at the home computer this month.
Even though the family wants to give to a local charity that feeds the homeless, Diane Harrell, a mother of two, says she feels more comfortable contributing to the organization online. “I’d much rather give to a charity online than someone knocking at my door,’’ she says. "I feel like I can do it on my time, without pressure.”
Like the Harrells, many of us will turn to the Internet to find charities, donating either our money or our time this giving season. There are a number of ways to make sure you’re giving safely, whether you’re sending money to save the whales or dishing out dinner at a local homeless shelter.
It’s most important to have some idea of where you want your money to go and the impact you want your donation to have. Then, says Laurie Styron, an analyst with the American Institute of Philanthropy, a watchdog group, take these steps to better know your charity:
1. Research. You’ll find information about 1.7 million nonprofits at GuideStar#IF($EnableExternalLinks) (guidestar.o#COMMENT#ENDCOMMENTrg)#ENDIF. Or you can utilize a third-party nonprofit, such as #IF($EnableExternalLinks)JustGive.o#COMMENT#ENDCOMMENTrg#ELSEJust Give#ENDIF, which relies on the GuideStar database and passes along your contribution after taking a small (3 percent) fee. Network for Good #IF($EnableExternalLinks)(networkforgood.o#COMMENT#ENDCOMMENTrg)#ENDIF operates under a similar premise.
One advantage of giving through a third-party organization: You can make your donation anonymously, avoiding an avalanche of solicitations later. But make sure the third party passes along the donation in a timely fashion; Andrea B. Lloyd, operations director of JustGive, says the turnaround at her organization is a timely 30 days.
2. Read. If you give on your own instead of using JustGive or a similar third party, make sure the website is for the organization you want. Some scams employ similar web addresses to those of legitimate charities and seek to trick donors. Also, check to see if the site’s information is up to date.
4. Don’t be tempted. Scam artists send emails soliciting charitable donations and your personal information, particularly after disasters such as the California wildfires. “Never, ever, ever click on a link in an email to give to a charity,’’ advises Suzanne Coffman, communications director of GuideStar.
The basic, common sense ideas about giving online also apply to searching the Internet for volunteer opportunities. First, spend some time thinking about the work you want to do, the impact you want to make and the skills you’ll bring to a volunteer opportunity. Then, you’ll want to make sure the opportunity is with a developed organization that has been doing the work for some time. It’s more likely an established organization “has a better idea of how to utilize volunteers,” says David Jay, network manager for the nonprofit VolunteerMatch#IF($EnableExternalLinks) (volunteermatch.o#COMMENT#ENDCOMMENTrg)#ENDIF, which matches volunteers with some 53,000 organizations.
VolunteerMatch provides a sort of one-stop shopping place for volunteers and nonprofits. The group verifies that all the U.S. organizations it lists are either registered nonprofits, government entities, political organizations, hospices, hospitals or schools. VolunteerMatch lets you search for organizations by geographic location and type of activity. But it also offers options for volunteers to find opportunities that match their particular skills or even their age group.
If you’re looking for volunteer opportunities on your own, Jay suggests several ways to verify an organization’s status.
- Check #IF($EnableExternalLinks)guidestar.o#COMMENT#ENDCOMMENTrg#ELSEGuideStar#ENDIF to determine the organization’s nonprofit status.
- Visit the National Center for Education Statistics #IF($EnableExternalLinks)(nces.e#COMMENT#ENDCOMMENTd.g#COMMENT#ENDCOMMENTov/globallocator)#ENDIF for a database of public and private schools, colleges and libraries.
- It might sound far-fetched, but organizations with seemingly innocuous names can have ominous connections. Jay recommends visiting the U.S. Treasury web site#IF($EnableExternalLinks), (treas.g#COMMENT#ENDCOMMENTov/offices/enforcement/ofac/sdn/)#ENDIF, where you can do a text search to make sure an organization isn’t on the list of people and groups associated with terrorism.
Whether you’re giving time or money, it’s always good to have an alternate method of contacting a charity, as well.
“If you accidentally type in 50,000 rather than 500 bucks,’’ Styron says wryly, “you’re going to want to have some other way to contact the group.”
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