Commentary: Give to Charities, But Give Wisely

Commentary: Give to Charities, But Give Wisely

With the holiday season upon us, now is the time not only to give generously to your favorite charities, but also to give wisely and knowingly. As someone who works in the nonprofit sector, I know now is a good time to discuss end-of-year giving tips. As your delegate to the General Assembly, I remind you we have laws governing how a charity may solicit your support.

It is a good idea for Virginians to research the charities they support and know that their donations are being used prudently. I encourage everyone to search the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) database and to learn more about your favorite charities before making any donation.

To be able to solicit contributions in Virginia, charities are required to register with the VDACS and to disclose the organization’s leadership, mission, financial statements and any professional fundraisers they work with. They also must provide a copy of their governing documents.

When you are called at home, the solicitor must make disclosures that include stating affirmatively that they are a “volunteer or paid solicitor” and who they are calling on behalf of. You should ask for the charity’s registration as well as theirs if they are a “paid solicitor,” make a note of the caller’s name and the percentage of the donation that will go to the charity, whether the donation is tax deductible, and what charitable programs it will support.

Unfortunately, some charities will use high-pressure tactics to solicit donations but fail to explain how the donation will be used. These groups tell potential donors that it is “critical” that they donate “immediately.” Reputable charities will not use such ‘sky is falling’ tactics.

Here are other good tips to consider when giving:

  • Resist pressure to give on the spot, whether from a telemarketer or door-to-door solicitor, and beware if they thank you for making a pledge you don't remember making. If you feel uncomfortable, just say, "No, thank you."
  • Do not give cash. Donate by check made payable to the charity or use the charity's website to donate by credit card or download a form and mail it back.
  • Be wary if the charity fails to provide detailed information about its identity, mission, finances and how the donation will be used. Reputable charities will gladly provide the information requested.
  • Watch out for charities with names that sound similar to well-known organizations. These sound-alike names are intended to confuse donors.

And remember to consider our many fine local nonprofits serving our community here in the 44th district like United Community Ministries (UCM), Good Shepherd Housing and New Hope Housing, just to name a few.

As many of you may know, my family and I are very supportive on giving to the less fortunate; but we always do a thorough research on the charities we support.