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Keeping Your Eyes Open When Donating to Charities

During the holiday season, many generous Marylanders make tax-deductible donations to charities. However, there are unsavory individuals who take advantage of those with big hearts and pose as charities to pocket the money for themselves. Consumers should be on the lookout, particularly during the holiday season, to ensure that their dollars are going to the intended cause.

Remember to always follow these three rules:

  1. Check with the Maryland Secretary of State's Office at 1-800-825-4510 or www.sos.state.md.us/charity/charityhome.aspx before donating, to be sure the charity is registered.
  2. Never agree to give money over the phone or to a door-to-door solicitor. Ask the caller or solicitor for written information about the charity and read it before making your decision.
  3. Find out what percentage of your donation goes to the charity's mission. Charities must file reports with the Secretary of State disclosing this information.

Don't Be Rushed

These days, many charities solicit money by telephone. Telephone solicitations can be legitimate requests for money, but it is possible the caller does not represent a genuine charity. Unscrupulous callers want to get your money fast. They often ask for a credit card number or offer to send a courier to pick up your check before you can change your mind. Similar precautions should be exercised in response to door-to-door solicitations. When solicited by phone or door-to-door, always ask the caller or solicitor to provide you with written material about the charity. Even if the charity has an urgent need for money, the need will still exist after you read what they've sent. Before you give, make sure you know:

  • The full name, address and phone number of the charity.
  • If the charity (and paid fund-raiser, if one is used) is registered with the Maryland Secretary of State.
  • How much of your donation goes to the charity and how much goes to the fundraiser who contacted you.
  • For what purpose your contribution will be used.
  • If your contribution is tax deductible.

How is Your Money Used?

Some charities use paid fundraisers to contact you for a donation. These fundraisers may keep a portion of your gift as their fee. Find out how much of your gift goes to the charity. You might be better off to send your check directly to the charity and by-pass the fundraisers. The Charitable Organizations Division of Maryland's Secretary of State's Office has a master list of thousands of registered charities. The Office can provide information about:

  • The purpose of a charity.
  • The amount of money a charity raises.
  • The percentage of the money collected that is used for charitable program services.
  • The percentage that is used for administrative costs and fundraising.

Warning Signs

Some solicitations should raise immediate red flags. Be wary if:

  • The organization refuses to send you written material or financial information.
  • The solicitor offers to send a courier to collect your contribution.
  • You receive an invoice or bill for a pledge you never made.
  • The organization's name and logo closely resemble another charity with a similar purpose.

Bogus charities frequently use names that resemble those of well-known, legitimate organizations. Fake charities frequently surface after national emergencies or natural disasters. The only way to be sure a charity is legitimate is to do some research before you give.

Donors have the right to ask as many questions as necessary to make an informed decision about whether or not to donate. If the charity you are considering resists answering your questions, don't give.


If you have any questions concerning a charity, call the Charitable Organizations Division of the Maryland Secretary of State's office at 1-800-825-4510 or go to www.sos.state.md.us/charity/charityhome.aspx.

Remember to call before you write the check!

Maryland Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division
Consumer hotline: (410) 528-8662 or 1 (888) 743-0023 toll-free


Attorney General of Maryland 1 (888) 743-0023 toll-free / TDD: (410) 576-6372
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