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Editorial: Be informed before donating

It may be better to give than receive, but donors to charitable causes still need to be careful when exercising that benevolent spirit.

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) urges citizens to do their homework before making donations, especially over the phone or Internet.

Resist high-pressure, emotional appeals, and ask a caller to explain the purpose of their organization, what services are provided, how much of the donation goes to fundraising, whether the donation is tax-deductible and whether a receipt will be sent.

A legitimate charity will mail information or direct people to a website where they can find additional information.

The DATCP advises that prospective donors should be skeptical of anyone who promises a sweepstakes win or free prize in exchange for a donation, or who begins by expressing appreciation for past donations. Criminals often use such tactics to get people to make hasty decisions.

DATCP offers the following tips to consumers making donations:

--Don't respond to unsolicited emails or texts, and don't give personal information to someone who's in contact via email or text.

--Donate to well-known charities that are trusted and established. Only make a donation when initiating contact and knowing who's being talked to.

--Don't feel pressured to make an immediate decision over the phone.

--When online, don't click on pop-ups or links asking for donations. These often lead to a fraudulent site.

--Never write out a check or give cash to an individual solicitor. Only write checks out to the organization's name or use a credit card.

--Confirm the organization soliciting donations in Wisconsin is registered with the Department of Safety and Professional Services. These organizations are required to register and consumers can search for them online at

For more information or to file a consumer complaint, visit the Bureau of Consumer Protection's website at, via email at or call 1-800-422-7128.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) also has advice for making giving more effective.

Consumers want to know their money is being spent wisely when they write a check to a charity, according to the BBB. When potential donors see a charity meets the BBB's "20 Standards of Charity Accountability," they should be reassured their money will be spent wisely.

Of the 65 charities whose reports are available at, just 25 meet these standards.

Here are some BBB tips to make sure donations will be used appropriately:

--If unfamiliar with an organization, don't hesitate to ask the charity for written information about its programs and finances.

--Don't succumb to pressure to give money on-the-spot. A charity which can use the money today will welcome it just as much tomorrow. Watch out for appeals bringing tears to the eyes, but telling nothing about how a donation will be used.

--Before making online donations, determine whether the charity's website is secure and it has a privacy policy concerning its use of personal information including name, e-mail address and other facts. (Secure sites' addresses begin with https://.)

--When considering support for a cause-related marketing campaign, find the answers to questions like what portion of the purchase price will benefit the charity? what is the duration of the campaign? and what is the maximum or minimum total contribution? If the information isn't on the item, check the organization's website.

--Before donating used items, make sure they're in good shape to reuse. Donating junk puts an undue burden on the charity and does more harm than good. Consider selling the item and donating the proceeds to a charity.

The BBB urges donors to seek professional advice if in doubt about the deductibility of contributions. For more information or further inquiries, visit

or call 1-800-273-1002.

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