Giving Wisely to Charity (Text Version)
If you need assistance reading or understanding this document please call 517-373-1152.
Every year, generous Michigan citizens give millions to charities that do important and wonderful work in our communities, including feeding and clothing the poor, conducting medical research, and promoting education and the arts.
As a donor, you must decide among the many charities competing for donations. While many charities are excellent, some are wasteful, others use telemarketers that keep up to 90% of your donation, and still others are outright scams. My office periodically receives complaints about unscrupulous fundraising practices.
As Michigan’s Attorney General, I’m committed to helping citizens make wise choices. To that end, my office maintains an online database of more than 7,000 charities soliciting in Michigan; we also publish an annual professional fundraising report. This information will help you make the best choice to help your community.
Online Searchable Database
Michigan law requires most charities that solicit donations to register with the Department of Attorney General. Registered charity or public safety organization information is available at www.mi.gov/charitysearch. Search using one or more factors such as name, purpose, or geographic area and obtain a report that provides contact information, the organization’s purpose, and financial information. But do not assume that if a particular organization is not registered it is unworthy. Some religious charities, hospitals, and schools are not required to register.
Public Safety Organizations
While you are never discouraged from supporting a police, fire, or other public safety organization, here are some facts you should know before giving:
Most public safety groups are not charitable organizations, and they should not be confused with public services like firefighting and police protection, that are paid for by tax dollars, not donated funds
Because these groups are not charitable, your donation may not be deductible on your income taxes.
Police and fire organizations and their fundraisers that solicit donations must be registered with the Attorney General’s office.
Donations made to a public safety group are often used to fund that group’s activities.
Public safety organizations are not the same things as your local public services, like police or fire departments. Even if you say “no” to donating, your local law enforcement officers and firefighters will be there to protect you.
Some charities and public safety organizations employ fundraisers to solicit funds through telemarketing. These fundraisers are in the business for profit. Shockingly, some keep as much as 90% of your donation. Others can be aggressive or rude and will give misleading (or outright false) answers to your questions.
Avoid Telemarketing Trickery:
Be skeptical of unsolicited calls. When you receive an unsolicited call, you never truly know who is on the other end of the line or what they will do with your payment information.
Never give out payment information over the phone. Tell the caller that you will research the cause and call them back if you decide to donate.
Remember solicitors are trained to get a donation. They may not know much about the group they are calling for, and they may not be able to share information about how your money will be used. Additionally, the answers a solicitor provides may not be trustworthy.
Many charities have similar names. Some fundraisers will try to exploit your emotions by using sympathetic-sounding names.
If you’d like the telemarketers to stop calling, tell them to remove your name and number from their calling list. If they refuse or call back, report the matter to the Attorney General.
Before You Write that Check …
Demand information in writing from the public safety organization or charity, including financial information.
Contact the organization directly to verify where and how your money will be used. Do not rely on the solicitor’s answers to your questions.
Visit the Attorney General’s website (www.mi.gov/charitysearch) to confirm the organization’s registration and review its finances. You can also call the Attorney General’s Charitable Trust Section. For charities call 517-373-1152; for public safety (police or fire) organizations call 800-769-4515.
Check an organization’s status on the Attorney General’s website (www.mi.gov/charitysearch).
Charities Q & A
Question: Does registering with the Attorney General make a charity worthy of a donation?
Answer: No. Michigan law requires most charitable organizations to register before they may solicit funds, but that does not mean the Attorney General endorses the charity. To register, the charity must submit financial information to the Attorney General’s Charitable Trust Section. Summaries of registered charities’ financial statements are available at www.mi.gov/charitysearch.
Question: What makes a charity worthy of my donation?
Answer: In addition to financial reports, like those available on the Attorney General’s website, you may want to consider ratings from organizations that evaluate charities according to select criteria: fundraising costs, accomplishments and plans, and effectiveness. The Attorney General can make available additional financial statements for larger organizations, and you can check Charity Navigator, GuideStar, or the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Guide.
Question: Does the law limit how much professional fundraisers can retain as payment for soliciting donations for a charity?
Answer: No. Fundraisers can retain any amount of solicited funds as long as they abide by the contract with the charity. The US Supreme Court has ruled that states cannot regulate the amount fundraisers receive. However, the Supreme Court also ruled that fundraisers cannot mislead you about that amount.
Question: Are all donations to public safety groups, such as law enforcement or firefighter organizations, tax deductible?
Answer: No. Most public safety groups that are registered with the Attorney General’s Charitable Trust Section are not charities. Therefore, donations may not be tax deductible. The IRS’s “Select Check” tool will tell you if donations to an organization are tax deductible.
Question: What is the best form of payment?
Answer: Credit cards and checks payable to the organization—not to an individual. With trusted charities, consider giving monthly by creating an automatically recurring payment using your bank’s bill pay feature.
Beware of Bogus Charities:
Bills or invoices are sent to you even though you never pledged money to the organization.
Evasive, vague, or unresponsive answers to specific questions about the charity and how money is used.
Words making up a charity's name that closely resemble a better-known charity.
Allowing no time to reconsider your pledge; they insist on collecting your donation immediately.
Refusing to answer questions about where your money will go or where to find information about the charity.
Emotional appeals and high-pressure tactics to get you to make a quick decision or feel guilty about not contributing.
Don’t Let a Few Bad App Apples Sour You on Giving
Most charitable groups are committed to helping solve society’s problems; they fill the gaps where government cannot meet all of a community’s needs. The few mail and telephone solicitations that are scams must not discourage you from donating to charities. Learn the facts first, then please donate generously.
For More Information or to File a Complaint Please Contact Us:
Department of Attorney General
Charitable Trust Section
PO Box 30214
Lansing, MI 48909