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End-of-year charitable giving? Exercise caution

Check with Consumer Affairs, Charitable Solicitations and Gaming before donating

NASHVILLE – A word of caution to those planning to end 2009 or start 2010 by giving money to what they think is a good cause: The state Division of Charitable Solicitations and Gaming and the Consumer Affairs Division are reminding Tennesseans to check out charitable organizations before making donations.

“While consumer complaints filed with us do not automatically mean organizations are at fault,” says Consumer Affairs Director Mary Clement, “learning about complaints does sometimes affect whether a consumer goes forward with a donation. It’s really easy to check to see if Consumer Affairs has had complaints against an organization.”

Complaints filed with the Consumer Affairs Division are forwarded to the Division of Charitable Solicitations and Gaming for investigation. The Division of Charitable Solicitations and Gaming, which is part of the Department of State, has authority to levy civil penalties against groups that engage in unfair, false, misleading or deceptive fundraising practices. The division’s investigators also can refer cases to the district attorney general if criminal activity is suspected.

In addition to investigating complaints forwarded by the Division of Consumer Affairs, the Division of Charitable Solicitations and Gaming also accepts complaints directly from the public.

“We take investigations of organizations that misrepresent themselves or mislead consumers very seriously,” said Secretary of State Tre Hargett. “There are many worthy charitable organizations out there that need every donation they can get. But their work is made more difficult because shady operators can discourage some people from making any contributions.”

Charitable organizations in Tennessee are required to register with the Division of Charitable Solicitations and Gaming, which offers some timely tips when weighing the opportunity to donate to organizations:

  • If you are approached by someone raising money for a charity, don’t feel pressured into making a contribution on the spot. And remember that it’s usually not a good idea to give out credit card numbers or other personal information.
  • Ask questions about the organization’s purpose and exactly how your money would be spent.
  • Is the person asking you for money actually affiliated with that organization or is the person a third-party professional fundraiser? And if the person is a professional fundraiser, what portion of your donation will actually go to the intended charity?
  • Remember that representatives from reputable charities shouldn’t mind sharing the addresses and phone numbers for their organizations so you can follow up with them later.
  • In Tennessee, charitable organizations, except those specifically exempted by law, are required to register and file annual financial reports with the Division of Charitable Solicitations and Gaming. Those financial reports, which provide some detail how donations are being spent, can be viewed on the Department of State Web site at: http://www.state.tn.us/sos/charity. Information is also available by calling the Division at 615-741-2555.
  • The types of groups exempted from filing are also listed on the Web site – and they include organizations such as religious and educational institutions, volunteer fire departments and rescue squads, political groups, hospitals and nursing homes.
  • Just because an organization has registered with the state doesn’t mean it is “legitimate.” But potential donors can learn a lot about a charity by accessing the information that is available in those records. And if an organization should be registered with the state but isn’t, then that should raise a pretty big red flag.

About the Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs

Consumer Affairs (www.tn.gov/consumer/) is part of the Department of Commerce and Insurance, which works to protect consumers while ensuring fair competition for industries and professionals who do business in Tennessee. www.tn.gov/commerce/


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