TAMPA, Florida -- Following 10 Investigates' report on how obstacle-racing company Spartan Race disappointed on promises of help to local military nonprofits, several charities are expressing the need for more awareness in the community about how best to donate.
"[Donors] want that money to go to the cause," said retired Air Force Maj. Steve McLeary, executive director of the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, a national nonprofit based in Tampa. "When [donations] don't go to the cause -- that bothers me."
The Special Operations Warrior Foundation, an eight-time Charity Navigator four-star organization, provides support for families of servicemembers who were injured or killed in the line of duty. McLeary says he takes pride in the foundation's transparency, but many companies and charities are not as open.
"If [a company] just says, 'a percentage of the proceeds are going to' [charity],' that's not very definitive," McLeary warned.
He says if you are skeptical about a charitable claim, ask questions. Companies should be willing to disclose how much they intend to give, while nonprofits should be forthcoming with all of their financials.
TIPS FOR BEING A SMARTER DONOR
The BBB of West Florida offers the following tips for researching a non-profit:
- More than a Charity Name. Don't assume the nature of the advocacy charity's programs based solely on its name. Review the organization's website to better understand its positions and activities.
- Be Wary of Overly Emotional Appeals. Watch out for charity appeals that seek to stir your passions for an advocacy issue but don't tell you what the charity is specifically doing to address the matter.
- Many Voices for Each Cause. For any advocacy issue, there are a variety of charities seeking to address the matter in their own way. The charity soliciting you is not the only option to consider. Many charities that carry out program services such as health care research, education, veterans assistance are also engaged in advocacy activities related to their mission.
- Accountability is More than Finances. It would be a mistake to overemphasize charity finances when assessing a charity. BBB Wise Giving Alliance reminds donors that its broad standards address many other aspects of accountability such as governance, effectiveness reporting, appeal accuracy, website disclosures, donor privacy and other matters.
- Deductibility Verification. Don't assume that all advocacy organizations are tax exempt as charities. If deductibility is important to you, see if the advocacy appeal references whether the organization is tax exempt as a charity under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.
10 Investigates has also compiled additional resources for you to research non-profits:
- Verify the group's legal non-profit status yia the IRS.
- You can review the group's Form 990 tax filings for free on FoundationCenter.org or Guidestar.org to learn about its expenses, salaries, fundraising costs, and board of directors.
- Look for red flags, such as high salaries, board members receiving salaries, board of directors or employees related to each other, or high fundraising expenses in relation to revenue.
- Use charity watchdog websites such as The American Institute of Philanthropy, The Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance, The Charity Navigator, Givewell.org.
- You can also call a non-profit to ask specific questions about how its funds are being spent. Most organizations that aren't religious groups are required to provide their last three 990s upon request.