CHARITABLE SCAMS PREY ON TRAGEDIES TO SCAM THE CHARITABLE
Lori Z. Bahnmueller
Michigan Credit Union League-YOUR MONEY MATTERS
PLYMOUTH, Mich., May, 1999 — Instinct prompts us to cringe in despair over the crisis in Kosovo.
Since March 24 when NATO began the bombardment of Yugoslavia, more than 400,000 ethnic Albanians have fled Kosovo. We’ve watched human trains of refugees labor on foot in search of safe harbor, only to be trapped in a desperate holding pattern, forced to squalor in filth while border neighbors debated their entry. We’ve seen villages burn, dead bodies scattered, bombs fall.
It’s not surprising that amid all this tragedy, Americans seek opportunity to help. Many relief organizations are launching campaigns to raise funds to assist refugees and their families. We are indeed the ultimate global helpers. More than 80 percent of the money raised by charities in this country comes from individuals.
But as most search tragedy for the opportunity to aid, still others devise methods to exploit crisis for profit.
“Given the urgency and overwhelming needs of the refugees,” said Bennett M. Weiner, vice president and director of the Philanthropic Advisory Service of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, “this is all the more reason for donors to check out soliciting groups to ensure their generosity is used effectively and wisely.”
Established relief organizations will be soliciting for contributions to meet both immediate and long-term needs of refugees. Appeals should describe the specific services the charity intends to provide to refugees and their families. If not, individuals should ask for details from these organizations about how they intend to use solicited funds.
In addition, newly organized charities may be soliciting for support. Potential donors should ask about the special need or service being provided that prompted the organization’s creation and how they intend to spend their funds and provide assistance. Even newly established groups should have written material available describing their programs, anticipated expenditures, and how they will carry out activities.
Some groups may be raising funds for distribution to existing relief organizations as opposed to directly providing services. If so, you may want to consider sending a donation directly to the benefiting organization. Also, some charities may change their program focus during a crisis to respond to the changing needs of refugees. Do not assume the charity will carry out the same activities throughout the crisis.
Organizations conduct solicitations for relief in several ways: through the mail, telephone, door-to-door appeals, the Internet, and announcements in magazines, newspapers, radio and television. Although timing is critical in responding to the needs of the refugees, potential donors should not succumb to pressure in making an immediate donation without first checking out the charities. Fraudulent solicitors often demand on-the-spot contributions and rely on the fact that individuals will not questions their efforts.
The Philanthropic Advisory Service offers further advice to those considering contributions to a charity:
* Be wary of appeals that are long on emotion, but short on describing what the charity will do to address the refugees in Yugoslavia and the surrounding areas.
* If you contribute, do not give cash. Make a check or money order payable to the name of the charitable organization, not to the individual collecting the donation.
* Watch out for excessive pressure for on-the-spot donations. Be wary of any request to send a “runner” to pick up your contribution.
* Do not give out your credit card number or other personal information to a telephone solicitor. Ask the caller to send you written information on the charity’s programs and finances.
* Do not hesitate to ask for written information that describes the charity’s programs and finances. Even newly created organizations should have basic written information available.
* Be wary of charities that are reluctant to answer reasonable questions about their operations, finances, and programs. Ask how much of your gift will be used for the activity mentioned in the appeal and how much will go toward other programs and administrative and fund raising costs.
* Find out what the charity intends to do with excess contributions remaining after they have funded their Kosovo activity.
Check with organizations before donating goods. If the charity accepts donated items, have they confirmed there is a need for these materials? Ask about:
* Arrangements for shipping and distribution.
* Remember, there will be opportunities to give in the future. The problems will remain long after the headlines abandon the issue.
* Check out charities with your Better Business Bureau and obtain further advice on giving and access PAS reports on specific charities by visiting the BBB central Web site at www.bbb.org.