Get Involved in Your Community, But Be Careful!

Make a real difference in someone’s life by getting involved in charitable groups in your community. There’s no better feeling than helping those in need lead better lives. Helping out in your own community offers the best opportunities for improving things close to home.

Give and Take Double Road Signs Greedy or CharitableYou may choose to work with a local charity, a national charity operating locally, or on your own. If you work with a charity, make sure it’s a legitimate charity before donating to it. There are charity scams out there. Here’s how to tell if you’re associating yourself with a real charity that will actually help people.

Get the Proper Information Before You Give

There are a few key things you should know about any charity before agreeing to donate to, or volunteer with, it. What you discover will determine whether your participation is really helping people in need or lining the pockets of scammers.

  • Get the name, address, telephone number, and website (if available) of the charity. Also ask for the name of the charity’s director and his or her email address. You can use this information to look up the group online to see what information is there that will help you make a decision on participating.
  • Call the charity. See if anyone picks up. If you always get a machine, that’s a red flag. If someone answers, ask to talk to the volunteer coordinator and ask that person what opportunities are available for getting involved in your community. There should be opportunities other than giving money.
  • Check with the National Association of State Charity Officials to see if the organization is required to be registered in your state and if so, if it is registered.
  • Use websites such as Reputation.com and the Better Business Bureau to determine if there have been any complaints against the charity or warnings that it has shady practices that could indicate a possible scam.
  • If you know people in the community who have been involved, ask them about their experiences with the group. Stories from those who have been involved are invaluable.

How to Tell if a Local Charity May Be a Scam

Just because a charity has a local chapter or is founded and run by local members of the community doesn’t mean it’s completely on the up-and-up. Here are some clues that a charity may not be what it seems:

  • Charity administrators are vague about the mission of the group and the way donations will be used, or refuse to provide this information at all.
  • Its representatives try to pressure you into making cash donations or wiring money to the charity’s main office.
  • The address of the main office of the charity is a post office box.
  • It doesn’t discuss what it does or list its officers on its website or printed materials.
  • You’ve never met anyone in town who has heard of the charity.

Stick With Established, Known Community Groups

Whether you’re donating time, money, or both, it’s best to volunteer with local groups that have a strong community presence, are well-established and are well-known. Charitable groups that have been in your town for a long time are your best bets. Locally founded groups or national groups with a strong local presence are most likely to be legitimate and to actually help the people they say they help. You probably even know some people who have volunteered with these groups. Check out the top rated reputable charities on CharityWatch.com if you need help choosing a good one. Stick with the known and you can be sure you’re making a difference in your community.

Tim Esterdahl

Tim Esterdahl is the editor of IFCS blog. He is a married father of three and enjoys golf in his spare time.

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