You are here:   

Donor Information

Giving Tips for Donors

The following information is designed to provide tips to make sure that when you give a charitable gift, your money is being used as you intend.

Research the charity before you give:

  • Ask who is making the request - a charity or a professional fundraiser.
  • Ask for the name, address, and telephone number of the organization asking for the donation.
  • Ask how your donation will be used.
  • Ask what percentage of your donation will be used for program services (the organization's charitable purpose) rather than for administrative, management, or fundraising costs.
  • Ask the caller to send written material about the organization.
  • Look up the charity on the Department of Financial Institutions' website to find out if it is registered and to find information about how it uses the contributions it receives.
  • Look up the charity on some of the various "Charity Watchdog" websites. Links to some of these watchdogs' websites can be found on our Online Resources For Donors page.
  • Don't feel pressured by emotional appeals or urgent requests for donations. A reputable charity will appreciate your donation just as much if you take time to research the donation first.
  • Don't feel obligated to donate to a charity that sends you unsolicited greeting cards, address labels or other unordered merchandise.

Take precautions after you decide which charities you want to give to:

  • Don't give cash. Cash contributions are easily lost or stolen and do not leave donors with proof of their contribution. Always pay by check or credit card, and make your check payable to the charity. Never provide your credit card information in response to an unsolicited phone call or e-mail. Find the contact information for the charity you wish to donate to and contact it yourself.
  • Be cautious if the caller offers to send a courier to collect your donation immediately.
  • If you are donating over the internet, enter the URL yourself instead of clicking on a link provided by someone else, and be wary if the domain name is hidden, is not familiar, or is not the same as the text of the link.

Tips for Making Online Donations

Online fundraising allows donors to give to numerous causes with the click of a button. To help make an informed decision on how to donate online, donors should be aware of the following:

Make sure you are donating to a legitimate charity:

  • If you receive an e-mail or text message asking for a donation, confirm that the request is from the charity, and not an imposter, by contacting the charity or visiting its website.
  • You can also check out the following resources to learn more about specific charities: Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions, IRS Select Check, BBB Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, GuideStar, and Foundation Center. Links to these online resources can be found here.
  • Be cautious of "look-alike" websites. These fraudulent websites will often ask for personal financial information or may download harmful malware into your computer.
  • Watch out for charities with names that sound similar to well-known organizations. Sometimes these sound-alike names are simply intended to confuse donors.
  • Don't assume that charity recommendations on Facebook, blogs, or other social media have already been vetted. Research the charity yourself.

Peer-to-Peer Fundraising:

  • Individual supporters, like yourself, can raise money for charities through peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns. Supporters can set up fundraising pages on fundraising platform websites to raise money from friends and family members for their favorite cause.
  • If you want to set up a peer-to-peer fundraising page, please contact the charity beforehand to get permission to use its name and to make sure the representations you make on your page are correct.
  • If you want to make a donation on a peer-to-peer fundraising page, first make sure that your donation is going directly to the charity and not the individual supporter.
    • Find out what percentage of your donation will go to the charity and whether you will be charged any fees for making a donation through the fundraising platform website.
    • Find out what the website will do (if anything) with your personal information; be wary of websites that do not provide a privacy policy.

Additional tips:

  • Be cautious when considering giving to newly formed charities since they won't have a track record that you can take into consideration.
  • Be extra vigilant when donating online in the wake of natural disasters or national tragedies.
    • Some charities are formed shortly thereafter and may have the best of intentions; however, an existing charity is more likely to have the sound management and experience to quickly respond to these situations, and it will have a track record which you can review.
    • Also, be aware of sham charities that pop up to take advantage of people's generosity during these times.
  • You may want to give to a specific program or purpose within a charity; for example, disaster relief. If a website has a "donate" button, see whether you can designate a specific purpose for your donation. If you can't, contact the charity to be sure your donation will be spent for the purposes you intend.
  • Some charities sell merchandise online and claim that "100% of the proceeds" will benefit the charitable purpose. But "100% of the proceeds" does not necessarily mean 100% of the sales price. Contact the charity to ask how much of each purchase it will receive. If they cannot give you an answer, consider donating another way.
  • Be sure if you are donating online that the website is secure. If the address changes from "http" to "https" when you go to donate, you are using a site that is secure.
  • There are thousands of scams online seeking to trick you out of your personal information. Be cautious – never give out your social security number or other financial information.
  • Be wary if you receive an e-mail request for a donation. If the sender is unfamiliar, you may want to delete the e-mail message without opening it.

If you are considering making a gift to an individual or family, instead of an established charity, please keep the following information in mind:

  • Ask the fundraiser whether there is a trust or deposit account established for the individual's or family's benefit. Contact the banking institution to verify the existence of the account, and check locally to confirm that there really is such a need.
  • Do not give cash. Contribute by check that is payable to the fund, not to an individual, and mail directly to the fund.
  • Contributions earmarked for relief of a particular individual or family are not tax deductible, even if they are made to a qualified charitable organization. Ask whether the charitable contribution is tax deductible, and verify with your tax advisor or the IRS. The fact that a charity has a tax identification number does not necessarily mean your contribution is tax deductible. Ask for a receipt showing the amount of the contribution and stating that it is tax deductible.
  • If you wish to establish a fund to assist victims of a tragedy, be especially careful to respect the wishes of the victim's family and friends. The law requires that you have written permission to use the names or photographs of any person or organization in your fundraising appeals, and you may also have to register with the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions before any solicitations occur. Be specific and transparent about how the funds will help victims or their families and how quickly collected funds will be distributed. Be clear in your fundraising appeal from the beginning if there are multiple purposes for the fund, such as funding future community needs related to the tragedy. Many donors give with the expectation that all funds will be distributed quickly and solely to victims and their families.