Posts Tagged ‘charitable giving’

Recent Federal Trade Commission Consumer Warnings


Relatives and caregivers need to be aware of targeting practices

Bangor Daily News columnist Julia Bayly’s recent column alerts family members and others to attempts to solicit funds from vulnerable seniors and others.

Legitimate solicitations for funds can be just as dangerous to seniors as scams

How to be sure your support for veterans actually helps them 


By Russ Van Arsdale, executive director Northeast CONTACT
Posted June 13, 2016, at 7:13 a.m.

We received two letters in less than two weeks. Both were addressed with the same misspelling of our last name, a tipoff that we had not supported this charity in the past.

The appeal was ostensibly to help disabled veterans and included a calculator, notepad, window sticker and a check for $2.50, made out to me. Why any group gives money then asks for it back is unclear; because we’d never requested anything, we don’t have to donate or send their stuff back.

The “ask” was for $15, or I could opt to hand over our credit card number so the Disabled Veterans National Foundation could take more donations automatically, month after month. We declined to cash the check or divulge our card number.

click image to research charity

We researched the group on Charity Navigator, one of the top charity rating organizations. The foundation’s website says it “exists to provide critically needed support to disabled and at-risk veterans who leave the military wounded — physically or psychologically — after defending our safety and freedom.”

Charity Navigator says the group’s most recent tax filing shows 19.4 percent of its total expenses went to those programs to help vets. Some 72.8 percent of the total expenses went to fundraisers.

CharityWatch — formerly the American Institute of Philanthropy — using different scoring methods, gave the group an F rating in December 2015.

Looking at the most recent tax filing and audited financial statement, CharityWatch found that, of $8.6 million in expenses, 7 percent went to programs. Of the $8.7 million in total contributions, 89 percent went to fundraising.

CharityWatch rates 53 charities in its “Veterans and Military” category; 26 of them get a grade of F.

People who donate to charities want their money to help those the charity says it’s helping. We believe donors don’t usually think of fundraisers as especially deserving, but we may be wrong. As with all consumer decisions, research comes first.

The nonprofit Philanthropy Roundtable, at, recommends a 2013 report titled “Serving Those Who Served” for people who want to make effective donations supporting veterans in need. It can be downloaded at the above website as a free PDF or ordered in print or digital formats from various vendors.

There’s also a website about all things military. It lists several questions, at, which donors might ask themselves before giving.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer, ME 04412, visit or email


How to be sure that aid gets to Nepal disaster victims


Posted May 03, 2015, at 10:20 a.m.

In Friday’s Bangor Daily News, readers learned Nepalese students at the University of Maine were raising money to aid victims of the earthquake.

The students plan to send donations to a hospital in Kathmandu. The father of one of the students works at the hospital, so they know their donations will go where they intend them to go.

In other words, the students are doing everything right. They know people working in Nepal. They’re familiar with the work done by the people to whom they’re sending the money.

However, some people who are in the business of helping in times of disaster say most of us should wait two weeks — maybe even four — before sending anyone money.

That’s because scam artists often set up websites that resemble legitimate relief organizations. Those scammers rake in thousands, even millions, in gifts from well-meaning people who simply react too quickly.

CDP’s mission is to transform disaster giving by providing timely and thoughtful strategies to increase donors’ impact during domestic and international disasters.Regine Webster is vice president of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, or CDP. As its name might suggest, CDP looks at disasters at home and abroad through a lens that seeks to meet long-term needs. To decide whether to respond, its website says CDP looks for several things:

— Significant injuries, deaths or displacements.

— Call for national or international aid.

— Significant impact on a community’s livelihoods and capacity to respond.

— Significant impact on vulnerable populations.

— Heightened media attention.

Webster says even with what might be termed objective standards, she and others at CDP react emotionally to scenes such as those in Nepal. However, in a recent blog post titled “Watch. Learn. Then Act,” Webster wrote, “our mission is to opt for and encourage medium- and long-term needs over the understandable visceral, emotion-driven response” (emphasis hers).

Webster went on to relate that immediate needs — search and rescue, water, temporary shelter, access to medical care and so on — were being addressed by first responders. Over the course of coming weeks, longer-term needs will need to be met: safeguarding drinking water and basic hygiene, providing physical and mental health services, providing permanent shelter, rebuilding infrastructure and figuring out how people will get back to work.

Using the three points in her blog, Webster suggests potential donors do three things:

— Watch. The disaster began April 24. The scope of the disaster has begun to emerge, but more details are reported every day. Wait a few weeks and get a feel for the total picture of the disaster.

— Learn. Take two or even four weeks to see what the needs are and how responders are meeting them.

— Act. Webster predicts that after two weeks, the media will turn its bright lights away from one of the poorest countries in Asia. At that point, local and international nongovernmental organizations will be going full speed toward medium- and long-term recovery. Donors who make wise giving choices can be most effective at this stage.

Charity rater Guidestar Exchange calls CDP a “bronze participant,” citing transparency in its financial filings, leadership listings and mission statement.

Charity Navigator also helps sort the “real” charities from those that have sprung up overnight. Research any organization to which you plan to donate. Find some possibilities at

For best results, choose a group that has worked in Nepal before. As a top official of Save The Children put it, “it’s not a place to break people in.”

Follow the money to make sure it’s not going to someone’s bank account, then decide whether you want to target your donation for a specific purpose.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer, ME 04412, visit or email


An earlier version of this report identified GuideStar as GuideStar Exchange, which is a GuideStar program that allows nonprofits to list information about themselves online. GuideStar does not rate nonprofit organizations.

New Year’s tips for consumers


By Russ Van Arsdale, Executive Director Northeast CONTACT

Posted Dec. 29, 2013, at 2:17 p.m.

To all Maine consumers, we offer a few thoughts for a Happy New Year:

Take back your phone

“John” from “Medical Alert Services” is the new Rachel, a robot caller who’ll try to scam anyone who presses a button confirming the number called is working. Since they can “spoof” their own numbers and fool your caller id, just let the answering machine pick up.

Alert your friends and family that you’re doing this and that you’ll call right back. The Federal Trade Commission says it’s stopped billions of fraudulent calls angling for ways to steal your identity, but it can’t stop them all. And make sure you’re on the federal Do Not Call list (

Keep your identity safer

You already give personally identifiable and financial information only on secure websites you trust. You shred old documents, use strong computer passwords and use caution entering PINs. Take the next step, and offer up fewer details on social networking sites. Once on the internet, data can never really be deleted; that includes embarrassing photos potential employers might (and do) look at when considering new hires. Those photos may be tagged with GPS locations and other personal data.

Keep an eye on your credit

Find out how to check your credit report for free at That’s the truly free site that links to the three major credit reporting agencies. Check with each of them regularly (you’re entitled to one free report annually from each one, so you can get a report every four months). Get individual help with credit problems through the Maine Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection by going to or by calling 1-800-332-8529.

Beef up cyber security at work

Data breaches don’t happen just to the big chains. Find lots of user-friendly tips in a guide prepared by the University of Southern Maine’s Maine Cyber Security Cluster and Cyber Security Organization, a USM student group (

Scrutinize health claims

Just in the last month, studies were published showing that taking multivitamins to prevent major health problems is a waste of money and that soap and water is just as effective as antibacterial cleaners. Look hard at advertising, and do your own research before buying.

Give until it feels good, not until it hurts

Charitable giving spikes around the holidays and after disasters, and so do the scams. If you’re donating, make sure your money goes to a real charity. Find information about charities at the Maine Department of Professional and Financial Regulation ( or by calling the Department’s Charitable Solicitations Program at (207) 624-8525.

Get a second opinion

Find a buddy, a family member, friend or other trusted person, to help you with “offers that sound too good to be true.” If they are, trash them and have a good laugh together; you can be a sounding board for your buddy as well.

Be a good neighbor

Keep an eye out for signs that a neighbor who is homebound or has mobility problems may need help. Our letter carriers alert superiors when mail piles up, and we can look for other signs of possible distress.

Use your resources

Read parts or all of the Consumer Action Handbook online ( and search “consumer handbook”) or order a free copy (by phone, 1-800-FED-INFO). The Handbook covers almost everything most consumers need to know. And visit our blog ( for archived articles, consumer alerts and other helpful information.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visit or email

High-pressure fundraising calls prompt effort to establish safeguards — Bangor Daily News

By Eric Russell, BDN Staff
Posted April 18, 2011, at 2:31 p.m.
Last modified April 18, 2011, at 6:08 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — A Bangor legislator is working on a bill that he hopes will reduce the potential for scams by creating a set of standards for third-party vendors who raise money specifically through telephone solicitation.

Rep. Doug Damon, a Republican representing House District 15 in Bangor, said he was motivated to craft the bill after a constituent alerted him to a recent misleading and confusing phone call.

The call was made by an outside agency paid on a commission basis to raise funds for a local entity. The recipient of the call objected to the aggressive nature of the caller and also to the caller’s unwillingness to answer basic questions, Damon said.

Others — including Bangor City Councilor Cary Weston — have received similar calls in recent days. Weston said he gets the same call around this time every year.

When he began researching this matter, Damon was astonished to learn that as much as 65 percent of funds raised could go to the third-party vendor.

“I knew we had to do more to protect our citizens from misleading phone calls,” he said, adding that elderly residents are particularly at risk. “These calls harm the integrity of local, community-based organizations who rely on the support and confidence of personal fundraising to support their missions.”

Mike Crowley, president of Healthcare Charities, the fundraising arm of Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems, agreed that safeguards are needed.

“If too little of someone’s gift goes to the intended use, I think at best it’s misleading the public,” Crowley said Monday. “Certainly, it preys on the vulnerability of the good will of people in the community.”

To address those concerns, Damon’s bill would subject vendors who keep more than 25 percent of funds raised to follow a strict set of guidelines.

First, callers would have to disclose that they are a commission-based fundraiser, reveal the legal name of the vendor and identify the organization that the vendor is raising funds for.

Furthermore, vendors would have to disclose how the funds are distributed and how the money will be handled once raised.

Damon said he does not want to create unintended consequences for the many nonprofits that do use phone calls to solicit donations. That’s why he included the 25 percent threshold, which he said was established after communicating with fundraising professionals who shared regional and national best practices and standards of behavior.

Crowley admitted that he has received his share of suspect calls over the years.

“In my line of work, I’m highly sensitized to the methodology of raising funds,” he said. “We don’t do phone solicitation, but we have a strict code of behavior that we follow. Many Mainers are willing to step forward to give donations, but they want to know how those dollars are being spent.”

Damon said he hopes his bill, which will be submitted next week since the Legislature is in recess this week, will generate a good discussion if and when it is sent to the appropriate legislative committee.


Solicitations for charities have been a concern of Northeast CONTACT.
Refer to: 12/28/09  Stay informed when making gifts to charity – Bangor Daily News.

Right now Maine and 38 other states and the District of Columbia require charities to register. Consult the Department of Professional and Financial Regulation in Augusta for information (phone 624-8624,

Tips from the FTC – Avoid Charity Fraud

Fake charities can be a Grinch at holidays – Bangor Daily News

Fake charities can be a Grinch at holidays – Bangor Daily News.

Charitable giving tends to peak at this time of year. The spirit of the holiday season seems to pervade, even during difficult economic times. That’s good, because many charitable organizations depend on these gifts to keep operating.

Disreputable people take advantage of the generosity of honest donors in a variety of ways. Some set up fake websites designed to look like those of legitimate charities. Others use the telephone to seek quick cash for themselves, while pretending to represent some worthy cause.

We also may do less good than we had hoped when a large chunk of our donations goes to cover fundraising expenses. The Los Angeles Times reported recently that only 46 percent of all charitable donations went to the charities soliciting the funds; much of the rest went to administrative costs, including professional fundraisers. Charity Annual Report – 2009

There’s nothing inherently wrong with paying people to raise money for a good cause; many large charities depend on well-organized efforts to raise the large sums they need to operate. However, when administrative costs outstrip the funds they deliver to the charities, it’s time to take a close look at what’s happening.

The state of Maine looks hard at the people who do the collecting, requiring most of them to be licensed (excepted are religious organizations and some smaller nonprofits). If a solicitor phones you or comes to your door, that person is required to tell you the name and address of the soliciting organization before asking for money. Professional fundraisers are required to tell you the name and address of the professional fundraising counsel, professional solicitor or commercial co-venture if that’s the case.

Our suggestions on charitable giving:

  • Give locally. You often may see your dollars being put to good use in your community.
  • Give directly. Drop off your check or take part in a fundraising activity sponsored by your favorite cause. If you’re making a sizeable donation, you may want to meet directly with the fundraising coordinator.
  • Give only to nonprofit organizations with the 501(C)3 designation; that means you can claim the donation as a tax deduction.
  • Keep records of all donations for tax purposes. For donations over $250, you will need a letter from the receiving organization acknowledging the gift. Gifts of under $250 need only a canceled check, credit card charge or other “reliable” evidence showing the date, amount and recipient’s name.
  • Don’t give cash.
  • Don’t pledge a gift to an unsolicited phone caller. Get written information (which solicitors are required to send you) before making your decision. Don’t give in to a phone solicitor’s pressure for a quick donation to a “runner” who will pick up your check. A bona fide charity will appreciate your gift just as much after you have had time to do your research.

Our best advice might be to make a list of charities to which you want to donate, and stick to that list.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s membership-funded, nonprofit consumer organization. Individual and business memberships are available at modest rates. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for more information, write: Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, go to, or e-mail at

Ten Tips for Making Smart Donations (Department of Professional and Financial Regulation–Office of Licensing and Registration–State of Maine)

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