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State urges caution in charity giving
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ATLANTA — Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel today offered advice to individuals planning to donate to charities during the holiday season. Secretary Handel serves as Georgia’s chief charities regulator.

“Donors should thoroughly research a charity before giving to ensure funds are being used for the stated cause, and that it is a legitimate charity organization,” Handel said.

Secretary Handel issued the following tips for charitable giving:

It is important to research charities before you contribute. The percentage of your contribution that a charity spends on fundraising activities, employee salaries, other expenses and the charity’s stated mission varies greatly by organization.

A number of online resources can help you research charities. The Better Business Bureau ( and GuideStar ( provide detailed information about nonprofit organizations. Also, take time to review the organization’s own Web site.

In addition, many charities must register with the Georgia Secretary of State’s office. You can research charities at the Secretary of State’s Web site (   

Be wary of telephone solicitors asking for contributions. If you are solicited by phone, ask that the individual put their request in writing and provide complete information about the charitable program. Also, ask if the person conducting the solicitation is a volunteer or a paid solicitor.

Never give your credit card, debit card or bank account information to a telephone solicitor.

If a tax deduction is important to you, make sure the organization has a tax deductible status with the IRS. The IRS Web site ( has a searchable database of organizations eligible to receive tax-deductible charitable contributions. Make sure you get a receipt which shows the amount of your contribution and states that the contribution is tax deductible.

Many charitable solicitors ask for contributions of clothing, other household items and vehicles. IRS rules concerning valuations and receipts have changed significantly; be sure you understand them completely (

Not all organizations with charitable sounding names are actually charities. Many organizations adopt names confusingly similar to well-known charities. Be sure you know exactly who is asking for your contribution.

Watch out for organizations that use questionable techniques such as sending unordered merchandise or invoices after you have turned them down for a donation.

You are under no obligation to pay for or return items received under these circumstances. Be particularly cautious of couriers willing to rush out to your home or office to pick up your contribution.

Anyone with more questions can call the Georgia Secretary of State’s Securities and Business Regulation Division, which oversees charities, at (404) 656-3920.