Sun Editorial: Season of (informed) giving

Yes, you should give to those in need – just be smart about it

It’s easy to get caught up in goodwill this time of year – picking up a can or two for a local food drive, dropping extra coins into Salvation Army buckets, and clicking away with $5 here and $10 there to crowdfunding campaigns that pull at the heartstrings.

No question, giving to someone in need is a wonderful thing to do. Just make sure your giving is informed.

We all want to see the best in people, and no one wants to think their charitable donation is not benefiting someone in need. But it happens. Most in the area – most in the country, actually – are familiar with the late 2017 GoFundMe scam, when a South Jersey couple and homeless veteran duped donors out of more than $400,000 with a fake feel-good story during the holiday season.

GoFundMe made good with donors, refunding all money gifted to the fake campaign. And the three individuals involved faced hefty charges. But even so, taking advantage of the kind-hearted certainly left a bad taste behind.

So how do you know where your money is going? Take the time to do a little research. If you’re supporting a reputable, established local nonprofit or charity, you probably already know the group’s credibility.  If you’re looking to donate somewhere new, check out Charity Navigator, which evaluates more than 1.8 million nonprofits on its website at charitynavigator.org, rating them on financial health, transparency and accountability.

And when it comes to crowdfunding campaigns, be smart. GoFundMe has terms and conditions in place for campaigns, as well as a way to report questionable ones. Donors can message campaign organizers for more information. GoFundMe also recommends asking yourself several questions when considering a donation:

  • How is the campaign organizer related to the intended recipient?
  • What is the purpose of the campaign and how will funds be used?
  • Are direct family and friends making donations and leaving supportive comments?
  • Is the intended recipient in control of the withdrawals? If not, is there a clear path for the funds to reach them?

Sure, there will always be scams that sneak through and charities that lose sight of their purpose. But don’t let the prospect of those things curb your giving. Just do your best to know where your gift is going so those who truly need the help – and there are so, so many who do – actually get it.