Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Charles H. Bronson is alerting consumer who want to check out charities before donating any money that they can now find out information about a charity with a mouse click.
The department regulates charitable giving and Florida law requires charities to register and provide financial information about income and expenditures. There are a record number of charities registered with the department this year, 10,843, an increase of nearly 700 over 2003.
The department has provided financial information about charities to consumers through its annual "Gift Givers' Guide" for years. Now, all the information in the guide is available online.
Consumers who want to ensure a charity is properly registered can check by logging on to www.800helpfla.com. Like the paper guide, the site will also provide a breakdown of how much a charity spends on fundraising, how much on administrative costs such as salaries and operating expenses and how much money actually goes toward program services.
Consumers should always make sure a charity is registered before donating and check on how a charity spends its money. The department does not endorse any charity, even those properly registered. The department has no authority to mandate how a charity spends its funds but does provide financial information so consumers can make educated decisions about where to contribute.
"With so many charities seeking donations, it's important for consumers to take the time to ensure their dollars are going to a legitimate charity and being spent as they intended," Bronson said. "While we will certainly continue to make our Gift Givers' Guide book available upon request, putting the information on line helps consumers get that information immediately."
Bronson also reiterates the following tips to consider when deciding whether to donate to an organization:
- Don't judge an organization based on an impressive sounding name. Find out what it actually does.
- Be wary of emotional appeals and organizations that have only vague plans for spending the funds they collect.
- Never give cash. Write a check payable only to an organization-not an individual.
- Be wary of organizations that offer to send a runner to pick up your donation.
- Reputable charities are willing to wait for your contribution.
- Consumers have the right to ask for an organization's financial report and its federal tax identification number-the latter of which you'll need to claim your contribution as a tax deduction.
- Ask the organization to send you written information about its activities. If an organization is not registered, contact the department.
People who have additional questions or want to report a potential scam should call the Department's hotline at 1-800-HELP FLA (1-800-435-7352).