Take heed before making that donation

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The phone lines may become jammed this fall if the “survey” squads get intertwined with the holiday begging – you know, the ones that say your donation (which they’ll come pick up) will make some boy’s Christmas better than ever. The office of Maine Attorney General has some good advice.

Charitable solicitations are becoming ever more prevalent. Unfortunately, some solicitations are deceptive and bogus. Consumers should consider the following practical advice before donating to a charity:

Do not give cash. Always make contributions by check and make the check out to the charity, not to the individual collecting the donation. Never give out a credit card number over the phone.

Keep records of all your donations (receipts, canceled checks, and bank statements) so you can document your charitable giving at tax time.

Before making a donation, check out the charitable organization with the Department of Professional and Financial Regulation (624-8624), the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division (626-8849) or the Better Business Bureau (878-2715).

Of particular help is the Council of Better Business Bureaus’ Philanthropic Advisory Service, 4200 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, Va. 22203 (703-276-0100). This organization monitors and reports on national and international soliciting organizations. At no cost, consumers can receive a single report on an individual charitable organization.

You can also contact National Charities Information Bureau in New York City (212-929-6300) or the American Institute of Philanthropy (314-454-3040). You should also ask for a copy of the charity’s latest annual report.

Finally, there is also an internet service called the Charity Navigator (www.charitynavigator.org), which lays out how a charity spends its money, how stable it is financially, and how it compares with similar groups. See also www.guidestar.org, which provides a 10-step guide to choosing a charity.

Note carefully whether the solicitor makes the disclosures required by the Maine Charitable Solicitations Act.

Do not give in to pressure to give money on the spot or allow a “runner” to pick up a contribution. The charity that needs your money today will welcome it just as much tomorrow.

Always request literature from phone solicitors. If they want your pledge first, hang up or ask for a number so you can call them back.

Kay Soldier welcomes reader ideas for column topics of interest to seniors. She can be reached by email at kso48@aol.com, or write to 114 Tandberg Trail, Windham, ME 04062.