ColumnistsMy Turn

Seniors, a Generous Bunch

Con artists are aware of that: Be careful and check carefully before donating

By Bruce Frassinelli  

DonateWe seniors are a generous bunch. Having been through heartbreaks of our own because of tragedies or life’s circumstances, we are eager to help those who face adversity and those who have been through a traumatizing, life-altering event.

Unhappily, con artists are equally aware of this generosity and prey on those with a good heart.

Whenever tragedy strikes, as it did for families of victims of the Orlando shootings in the summer of 2016 or for the family of the 2-year-old Nebraska child who was snatched and killed by an alligator at Walt Disney World, or for those who lost their homes and everything else in tornadoes, floods and wildfires, we want to show our love and caring in a meaningful way.

We want to show our sympathy and oneness with those afflicted or their surviving families by opening our wallets and purses to lessen the burden they will be facing because of these unfathomable events.

This is laudable, but I am here to tell you to be careful and to check carefully before donating.

From pennies given by children to big pledges from corporations, millions of dollars in donations for the Orlando shootings have broken online records.

With so many donations, reputable charitable organizations tried as best they could to verify programs and services to make sure that every donation was distributed directly to the victims’ families.

Donations to Equality Florida’s GoFundMe page, which is the state’s main LGBT advocacy and awareness group set up just hours after the June 12 shootings, hit $1 million before the end of the day — the fastest time frame for any campaign on the GoFundMe platform. The outpouring dwarfed the organizers’ modest goal of $100,000.

Equality Florida partnered with the National Center for Victims of Crime, the nonprofit organization that gave assistance to victims of the 2012 movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., that killed 12 people, and the 2015 attack in Chattanooga, Tenn., that killed four Marines and one sailor.

Another major fund that has raised millions for the Orlando victims is the One Orlando Fund announced by Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer the day after the shootings.

“This tragedy will not define us, but will bring us together, because we are one Orlando,” Dyer said. He said that the fund was a way to “help respond to the needs of the community now and in the time to come.”

Donations were funneled through the Central Florida Foundation, a nonprofit organization that disbursed the funds through more than 400 charitable organizations and programs.

While acknowledging that it’s commendable for caring citizens to reach out to the victims’ families, the Better Business Bureau says you need to check carefully to whom you are donating. “We want you to give compassionately, but we want you to give carefully,” said Sandra Guile of the BBB.

The BBB provides these 10 common-sense rules for making any donation:

  • Check out the charity before donating.
  • Make sure the charity is registered.
  • See whether the charity has permission to use the names and photographs of the victims.
  • Know how the donations will be used.
  • Make sure the funds are received and administered by a reputable third party.
  • Be wary of newly created advocacy organizations.
  • Do not click on unfamiliar links.
  • Deal only with transparent organizations that make an annual accounting of donations and expenses.
  • Compare between newly created and established organizations.
  • Check for tax-deductibility, because not every organization collecting funds is tax exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue code. Contributions designated for a specific individual/family are not deductible as charitable donations.

The BBB says it always hears of “click-bait” requests for donations (that lead to questionable websites) as well as vague crowd-sourcing campaigns, where it’s very tough to know where your money is going. There are also those who go through communities with canisters asking for donations for victims of natural and personal disasters. It is difficult to verify whether these are legitimate appeals or scammers.

The problem is that in these days of immediacy, charities can pop up overnight, and in just a few hours raise thousands of dollars, without anyone really knowing who they are.

The BBB says that this is a big change from the days when the American Red Cross served as the pass-through for most of the money collected for disaster victims. Anyone can open up a GoFundMe or Facebook page, appear to link it to a legitimate charity and start accepting money.

You work hard for your money, so make sure your donation gets to their intended destination. Give with your heart, but make sure your eyes are wide open when you do.