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Check out charities first

As 2014 comes to a close, many Ohioans are likely to receive solicitations from charitable organizations asking for contributions.

As you sort through the requests, I encourage you to consider following the four pillars of smart giving as a guide for your decisions.

The first three pillars are passion, purpose, and a plan. Passion has to do with the causes closest to your heart, the ones you believe in most enthusiastically. Whether it’s funding health-related research, feeding the hungry, or finding homes for abandoned pets, any number of like-minded organizations would gratefully welcome your help.

Purpose is passion’s next step: What results do you expect from your donations to charities that share your interests? A Plan ties the first two together when you determine your budget for giving and whether you’ll give a lump sum or spread your donation throughout the calendar year.

The fourth pillar of smart giving is making sure your contributions end up in the right hands and actually go toward the good work you want to support. I encourage you to give generously to the charities of your choice. As attorney general, I also encourage you to check out non-profit organizations and verify their legitimacy before you donate your hard-earned dollars.

Most charitable organizations that operate in Ohio or solicit Ohioans for donations must file with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, and more than 36,000 have done so. My office’s Charitable Law Section provides oversight and ensures that charitable proceeds are, in fact, used appropriately.

Most charities are diligent, honorable, and scrupulous in their efforts. A few, unfortunately, violate the public’s trust, and we pursue them. For example:

• We ordered TEEN USA to pay $320,000 for violating the terms of an agreement they made with my office in November, 2013. Teens went door-to-door selling candy under the organization’s banner, but the money raised was not used for charitable purposes.

• My office filed a lawsuit against the operator of New Beginnings Recovery House, an organization claiming to assist individuals recovering from alcoholism and drug dependence. We found, however, that money it received allegedly was detoured to personal and unlawful uses.

To be confident you’re engaged in smart giving, I recommend that you follow these tips before donating to a charitable organization:

• Go to our Online Charitable Registration Search (http://www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov/Business/Services-for-Charities) to determine if an organization is registered with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and is in good standing. You can also call 800-282-0515 for more information or assistance.

• Verify the organization’s tax-exempt status with the IRS. The IRS’s Exempt Organizations Select Check will indicate whether an organization has a valid 501(c)(3) or other tax-exempt designation.

• View the organization’s IRS Form 990 through the Guidestar website (www.guidestar.org). Accessing Guidestar’s website requires a free registration process. The 990 will include information on how the group raises and uses its funds as well as other operational details.

• Gather data from private watchdog groups such as the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, and CharityWatch.

• Do a basic Internet search to review the organization’s accomplishments or questionable activities.

• Contact the organization itself and find out how your donation will be used. Get information in writing. Compare the charity’s written and web-based materials with the information you gather from other sources.

Smart giving requires passion, purpose, and a plan on your part. My office is committed to helping ensure that Ohioans’ charitable contributions make the most positive impact possible.

 

Mike DeWine is the Ohio Attorney General.