DMA urges federal workers to support CFC charities

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The Direct Marketing Association Nonprofit Federation is supporting efforts to weed out fraudulent and problematic organizations from the roster of Combined Federal Campaign participants, but encouraging donors not to abandon the program.

The DMA made this announcement last week as a result of an investigation by the General Accounting Office and the subsequent media coverage that followed that has thrown a harsh spotlight on the CFC, which is a major source of donations to many of America's charitable organizations. Federal workers gave more than $260 million last year to the campaign, helping more than 20,000 charities.

In its report in June, the GAO discovered that more than 1,280 nonprofits involved in the charity owed a total of $36 million in federal taxes. Since then, the Office of Personnel Management, which oversees the annual CFC, has put stopgap measures in place to try to ensure that charities comply with the tax laws.

However, officials acknowledge that they are thwarted by a law that bars managers of the CFC fund from even checking whether charities have a history of tax delinquency or fraud.

Commenting on the GAO report, the DMANF has said it supports efforts to weed out fraudulent and problematic organizations from the roster of CFC participants, but encourages donors not to abandon this important and worthwhile program.

The DMA also encourages anyone concerned about charitable donations to ask questions, and always to blend caution with generosity.

The following are some guidelines to help consumers choose wisely when making decisions about charitable donations.

Ask how your donation will be used. The organization should provide detailed information upfront and a contact reference for use after the campaign. Find out what the charity intends to do should any excess contributions remain after they have fully funded the disaster relief activities mentioned.

Look for financial information about the organization. Organizations should provide you with their annual reports, or IRS Form 990s, upon request. For many established organizations, IRS Form 990s are available online at www.guidestar.org. For many religious organizations not required to file a Form 990 and for all new organizations, ask them directly how and where their information is currently available.

Make sure the organization is registered in your state. Your state attorney general's office can tell you if the organization is registered with the state. If you believe fraudulent activity is taking place, please report it immediately to prevent further harm. Contact information for these offices, including links to the respective Web sites, can be found at www.nasconet.org. If your state is not listed, call your attorney general.

Do not give cash. Legitimate organizations will take a check, and will often accept credit cards as well. Never give cash, especially if the organization offers to pick it up through a courier.

Know whom you are talking to. If you are contacted by telephone, ask about the caller's relationship to the organization. A legitimate organization may use the services of professional fundraisers, volunteers and staff, depending on the needs of that particular group. It will assure that call center employees readily explain who they are and why they are calling. If you feel there is cause for concern, ask for the callback information and an address.

Look for a privacy policy. The organization should have a privacy policy on the use of personal information. Personal information, such as your social security number, mother's maiden name, or PIN access, should not requested.

Watch out for online "spoofing." If you receive an e-mail request, be cautious when clicking on a link from an e-mail, even if it appears to be sent from a legitimate source. The e-mail may have the logo and even the correct "sent from" source. Furthermore, the site link may even look like the real organization's link. To avoid confusion, go to the organization's Web site directly. If you are unsure of the Web address, go to your favorite search engine and enter the organization's name. When donating online, make sure that you enter your personal information only on a site that is secured.

Be cautious of high-pressure tactics. Legitimate organizations are professional and courteous when asking for your support. Be wary of high-pressure tactics, but do not be deterred from aiding this vital relief and reconstruction effort. Should a solicitation from an organization you do not know give you pause, please send your donation to an organization you do know and trust.

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