Earlier this week the Tampa Times released the results of a study on what it calls “America’s Worst Charities.” Fifty charities were on the list, which you can find at http://www.tampabay.com/americas-worst-charities/.
The list was based on the charities where the money raised goes primarily to the people who are raising the money, with as little as half-a-percent actually going to the causes they purport to be supporting.
Many of the charities on the list solicit donations from all across the U.S. and, in some cases, internationally.
But these dubious charities are especially relevant in Mississippi for two reasons, says John O’Hara of the Better Business Bureau in Jackson.
First, Mississippians are historically among the most charitable people in the U.S. Before Hurricane Katrina, Mississippi was ranked first in per-capita charitable spending. It fell to 17th in the year after Katrina and has been slowing moving back up the list ever since. This year, Mississippi is rated the fifth most charitable state, O’Hara says.
In addition, solicitations for charities always spike in the aftermath of a natural disaster, such as the tornadoes that killed 14 people and caused millions of dollars in damages across the state in late April. In those situations, good people are always moved to help and one of the most popular ways to help is through donations to worthy causes.
Mississippians are always targets, and especially after tragic events.
Unscrupulous people realize this, of course, and are always looking to exploit that generosity.
We have often encouraged readers to be generous by supporting those in need.
But we also urge readers to exercise caution. To insure that the money you give actually reaches the people you want to help, some due diligence is required.
O’Hara says one of the very best ways to achieve this is by checking out a charity’s background and practices by going to www.bbb.org. You can search the BBB database to learn not only about charities registered in Mississippi, but those in other states, too.
The Mississippi BBB has 46 state charities on its approved list. O’Hara says that to attain that distinction, a charity must show that at least 65 percent of the money it raises goes directly to the cause it represents.
He notes that bogus charities are clever, often using a name similar to a well-known charity to deceive would-be donors. Hence, a person who believe he is donating to the American Red Cross may be, in fact, donating to a fraud organization that goes by the name of, say, North Mississippi Red Cross.
Many other bogus charities use words like “cancer, veterans, soldiers, children, police” and other words that are likely to evoke sympathy. We all want to fight cancer, support veterans and law enforcement and help needy children, after all.
In this sense, fraudulent charities hurt not only the causes they are supposed to be advocating, but legitimate charities whose reputations are unfairly damaged by being illegitimately associated with the scammers.
There are some wonderful charities out there doing wonderful things. We encourage you to seek the out and give generously.
But, please, exercise caution.
Caveat Emptor (buyer beware) goes the phrase.
Givers must beware, as well.