Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Charity Checkups

The end of the calendar year often sees an increase in solicitations from non-profit organizations. Whether you feel compelled to give back or are just calculating charitable deductions for next year's tax return, it's helpful to research tax-exempt organizations to learn more about where your dollars are being spent, and to avoid sending money to fraudulent organizations.

The Internal Revenue Service's Exempt Organization Select Check provides quick information about particular non-profit organizations, and the general deductibility level of contributions. For more detailed financial data regarding tax-exempt organizations, the best source is the annual Form 990 filed with the IRS. Form 990 archives are available through a number of sources:
  • Duke University community members have access to GuideStar, a leading source of reliable nonprofit information and backfiles of Form 990.
  • Charity Navigator is another option to review ratings of charitable organizations, including percentages of revenue spent on actual programs and services versus overhead.
  • ProPublica Nonprofit Explorer also includes basic financials and free 990 downloads.
The growth of crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo has also affected charitable giving. It's common to see GoFundMe, YouCaring, or other fundraising sites set up to raise medical expenses, funeral expenses, or other needs. However, the Better Business Bureau has warned of fraudulent fundraising sites being created in the aftermath of tragedies like the Boston Marathon bombing and the Orlando nightclub shooting. For its part, GoFundMe offers both donors and beneficiaries protection in the event of fraud, and YouCaring provides tips for avoiding fraudulent fundraising campaigns. But as with traditional charities, donors should research carefully to ensure that their money reaches the intended source.

For more information about charitable organizations and tax law, check out the resources listed in the research guide to Federal Tax or Ask a Librarian.