The Facts About Giving Wisely
By providing benevolent, educational, philanthropic and humane services, charitable organizations fulfill a valuable role in society. Most charities
are honest, well-run organizations. Unfortunately, a small number try to take advantage of the goodwill and generous nature of people who want to
contribute to worthy causes.
Money given to dishonest organizations hurts in three ways: the benefit is wasted because the dishonest organization does not fulfill its promised good deeds; the money is diverted from reputable charities that would use it to provide valuable services; and the public’s trust in giving to charities is damaged.
Giving is important, but make sure you are giving wisely. Here are a few things you can do to help you decide how best to give.
- Determine whether the charity has registered with the Division of Consumer Protection. The Utah Charitable Solicitations Act was enacted to protect the public’s confidence in giving charitable contributions. This law requires charities to register annually with the Division of Consumer Protection unless they are exempt. A list of registered charities can accessed using the links on this page under the Lists heading. However, please note that registration is not the same as endorsement. The registration does not constitute endorsement or approval of the charity by the Division or any other government entity.
- Know exactly how your donation will be used. Any organization will have overhead expenses. Obviously, the more that is spent on overhead means less spent on the charitable purpose. Charities are not required to limit their overhead expenses. However, they are required to report the percentage of the contributions they receive that are spent on their charitable purpose. This percentage can be found by looking up a charity using the Registered Charities Search.
- Ask for information. Don’t be afraid to ask questions such as:
- "What is the full name of the charity?"
- "What is its permit number?"
- "Are solicitors paid or volunteer?"
- "What programs and services does the charity provide in Utah?"
- Know your rights. You have the right to:
- Receive solicitations that are accurate and truthful.
- Receive a clear description of the programs and activities for which contributions are being requested.
- Know the identity of the solicitor and the solicitor’s relationship to the charitable organization.
- Know the name of the charitable organization to be benefited.
- Be told about the programs and activities for which the contributions are requested.
- Protect yourself. Take precautions when making a contribution, even after you have investigated the charity.
- Never give your credit card or checking account information to any organization with which you are not familiar.
- Never send cash through the mail. If you must make a cash donation, make sure you get a receipt.
- Always write checks to the organization, not to the individual collecting the money.
- Don’t send your contributions to a post office box. Make sure you know where your money is going.
You have more power as a consumer to make a wise donation if you know your rights regarding charitable solicitations. Remember, you have the
right to decide to whom, when, and how much you give.
Choose your charities with care.
Even if you select a well-known charity, take the time to find out exactly where your money is going and what it is being used for. Select
organizations whose interest and concerns are similar to your own and evaluate the organization’s goals and programs. Do you feel that these goals
are realistic? Do they have a good plan for reaching those goals?
Tips to identifying a charity scam.
- The solicitation appeals to your emotions or beliefs but offers little or no information about the actual charity. Don’t be swayed by a sad
story until you have all of the facts.
- The charity has a name that sounds similar to that of a well-know organization. This does not indicate affiliation with that organization or
worthiness. You might think that you are contributing to a nationally recognized charity, when in reality, you are contributing to a fake.
- Sweepstakes offers or free gifts are made part of the solicitation. Gifts may include any thing from money to greeting cards and key
chains. Never feel that you must donate in return for an unsolicited gift.
- The solicitor pressures you to contribute on the spot, or offers to send a representative or a bonded courier immediately to your home to pick up
your contribution. A reputable charity will gladly accept your contribution today, tomorrow or a month from now.
Federal Trade Commission
For tips from the Federal Trade Commission on charitable giving, visit
For tips from the Federal Trade Commission on avoiding charity fraud, visit http://www.ftc.gov/charityfraud/.
IRS Form 990
The IRS Form 990 is the income tax return for organizations that are tax-exempt. Tax exempt organizations include charities, fraternal organizations,
political organizations as well as many others.
The Form 990 serves two important purposes. First it is the primary financial report that is used by most states (including Utah), and the IRS who
enforce charity regulations. Second the Form 900 provides the public with financial information about certain organizations. Often it is the
only source of such information. The Form reports the amount of contributions and other income received, the amount spent on fundraising, the amount
spent on management and general activities as well as other expenses including amounts paid to professional fundraisers.
For the user who needs a better understanding of the financial operations of an organization, the IRS Form 990 also reports income from ownership and
sale of dividends and securities, rents received, sales of inventory and taxable business operations as well as the expenses of these activities.
The form details expenses into 21 categories spread over charitable purpose spending, fundraising and management & general expenses.
The Form also includes information concerning, officers, directors and key employees including salaries and benefits paid to them, amounts paid to major
contractors for service and summary information relating to lobbying expenses.
Generally, organizations with annual gross receipts of less than $25,000 aren’t required to file Form 990. However, they do need to file an
abbreviated form called Form 990-N. For tax year 2008 most organizations with gross receipts of less than $1,000,000 and total assets less than
$2,500,000 may choose the file either the longer Form 990 or Form 990 EZ. The income and assets minimums change in tax years 2009 and 2010.
Every organization who files an IRS Form 990, 990-EZ or 990-N is required to make a copy available to any person who requests it. Copies of
the returns filed with the IRS are also available without cost at www.guidestar.org.
Additional information including blank forms and instructions for completing the form can be found at www.irs.gov.