Ohioans donated more than $11 million to Help the Vets, a Florida-based nonprofit. This may have provided a warm feeling, but the organization directed less than 5% of the gifts to veterans and more than 95% to the organization’s founder and various fundraising partners. In 2018, the Federal Trade Commission and the Attorneys General of Ohio and five other states reached a settlement with the organization which agreed to stop fundraising in the state while paying $1.75 million to legitimate charities.
Do some homework
Visit to the Ohio Attorney General’s charitable registration search page (https://charitableregistration.ohioattorneygeneral.gov/Charities/Research-Charities.aspx) and type in the organization’s name to see if they have registered with the state to solicit funds. It will tell you if they are current with filings, the organization’s address and other information (and financial figures, if they have them).
There will also be a link to the IRS website to see if they have federal not-for-profit status.
The Better Business Bureau of Northwest Ohio/Southeast Michigan has a searchable website (bbb.org/local-bbb/bbb-serving-northwest-and-west-central-ohio-and-southeast-michigan) that offers information, and letter grade ratings based on complaints that people have filed, the type of complaint, and how or whether the complaints were resolved.
For a more in-depth look at the spending of some larger nonprofits, visit Charity Watch (charitywatch.org) or Charity Navigator (charitynavigator.org). Charity Navigator rates charities on how much of the monies donated go to fund promoted projects as opposed to costs for fundraising and administrative salaries, along with an organization’s openness to sharing information concerning their management. Charity Navigator derives information from tax returns and questionnaires sent to charities, providing ratings for about 9,000 organizations. Charity Watch has ratings for over 600 charities, but full ratings for all of them are only available to dues-paying members. Non-members can see information on only the highest rated charities.
In depth information on small charities is harder to find, but ProPublica Nonprofit Explorer (https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/) has links to the tax returns of many organizations. The tax returns will have information on spending for an organization’s projects and data concerning the pay for their top executives.
Taking action against scammers
If you feel you may have been victimized by a dishonest charity, you can file a complaint with the Ohio Attorney General’s office, online or by phone. According to Dave O’Neil, Senior Information Officer for the Ohio Attorney General, the office receives about 500 complaints a year.
Call 800-282-0515 or fill out a form at charitablecomplaint.ohioattorneygeneral.gov
To avoid being scammed by false charities, look for red flags when approached by fundraisers. The Ohio Attorney General’s office suggests watching for the following:
- high-pressure tactics.
- someone who asks you to make out a check to a person rather than an organization.
- someone in a rush to pick up your donation, or who offers prizes or awards for donations.
- Never give out your credit card number to a fundraiser that you did not contact ahead of time.