Charities > Information for Consumers

Information for Consumers

Make the Most of Your Charitable Donation Decisions
Tips on Charitable Giving
Your Rights as a Consumer

Make the Most of Your Charitable Donation Decisions
 
The department's Bureau of Charitable Organizations administers the state's charitable solicitation law and maintains registration and financial information on over 11,000 charities soliciting in the Commonwealth, as well as 400 professional solicitors and fundraising counsels.
 
Every legitimate charity shares a mutual goal with the department: to protect the public from fraudulent and unscrupulous organizations.  With this in mind, the Corbett Administration continues its ambitious public awareness campaign to promote informed charitable giving and aggressively pursue fraudulent solicitation in the Commonwealth.

Most charitable organizations deserve our generous support.  However, there are also many unscrupulous organizations soliciting in Pennsylvania that employ fraudulent or deceptive fundraising tactics to prey upon those who willingly extend a helping hand. 

Through education, registration and enforcement, the department has encouraged thousands of charitable organizations to come into compliance with state law and register with the bureau.  Investigation and audit staff in the department conduct detailed financial reviews, conduct investigations and refer findings of fraudulent fundraising schemes to the bureau's prosecuting attorney or the state Attorney General.

The department has participated in senior expos and consumer fairs across the Commonwealth, distributing posters, brochures and magnets to Pennsylvanians.  The department also produced and distributed copies of a public service announcement to television stations for broadcast in Pennsylvania.  Each of these outreach tools lists the Bureau of Charitable Organization’s toll-free telephone hotline (1-800-732-0999) that Pennsylvanians can call to learn more about a  particular charitable organization, or to report a fraudulent or deceptive solicitation practice in Pennsylvania. 

With the addition of investigation and audit staff, the department has initiated detailed financial reviews, conducted investigations and referred findings of fraudulent fundraising schemes to the state Attorney General’s office for prosecution. 

REGISTRATION OF CHARITABLE ORGANIZATIONS

There are over 11,000 charitable organizations and 400 professional fundraising counsels and solicitors registered in Pennsylvania. The bureau's operations are fully funded by registration fees and fines that are collected for violations of the Act.

Depending upon its level of contributions, an organization may also be required to file reviewed or audited financial statements with its registration.

PUBLIC AWARENESS AND EDUCATION 

The bureau's primary function is to preserve the public's confidence in the charities that solicit funds in Pennsylvania.

The public can obtain basic information about how a charitable organization spends its contributions by calling the bureau toll-free within Pennsylvania at 1-800-732-0999 or at 717-783-1720. They can also call these numbers to register complaints about improper conduct by charitable organizations, professional fundraising counsels, or professional solicitors.

INVESTIGATORY PROCEDURES AND ENFORCEMENT 

With the merits of charitable organizations getting more attention nationally, the bureau retooled its resources in late 1995 to expand its investigative capabilities as permitted by statute.

In the past, the bureau had a limited investigatory role regarding violations of the Act, concentrating mainly on the registration component of its statutory responsibilities. Enforcement was primarily limited to matters related to failure to properly register.

To more closely scrutinize registration and financial materials filed with the bureau and to enhance investigative and prosecutorial capabilities, the bureau added four auditors, five investigators, and a prosecuting attorney to its complement to assist with more detailed audits and investigations triggered by both complaints and annual reviews. The bureau works closely with the Attorney General's Office, Charitable Trusts and Organizations Section, on enforcement matters. In the most severe cases, the Secretary of the Commonwealth has the authority to issue Cease and Desist Orders; refuse to register or revoke or suspend the registration of any charitable organization, professional fundraising counsel or professional solicitor; and impose fines of up to $1,000 per violation and additional penalties of up to $100 per day.

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Tips on Charitable Giving
  • Never give to a charity you know nothing about.
  • Do not hesitate to request written information from the charity regarding its programs and finances.
  • Don’t feel pressured into giving on the spot or allowing someone to come to your house to pick up the contribution.
  • Never commit to donate over the phone unless you are familiar with the organization.
  • Hang up the telephone on aggressive and harassing solicitors.
  • Never give cash, credit card numbers, or bank account numbers; always write a check payable to the charity so you have record of your donations. 
  • Be wary of "guaranteed" sweepstake winnings in exchange for a contribution.  Participation in sweepstake offers is voluntary, and donors are in no better position to win the sweepstakes than non-donors.
  • Ask who will benefit from your contribution.
  • Find out if your contribution is tax-deductible.
  • Don’t be fooled by a convincing name or one that sounds like the name of a well-known charity.
  • Don’t make assumptions when you hear words like "police" or "firefighter" in an organization’s name.  Although an organization claims it has local ties or works with local police or firefighters, it doesn’t necessarily mean contributions will be used locally.
  • Don’t feel guilty about not supporting all the charities that ask you for a contribution.
  • If solicited in person, always ask to see the solicitor’s identification.
  • Be aware of statements such as "every penny will go to the charity."  All charities have expenses, so check carefully and know where your money goes.
  • Find out if the charity is registered with the Bureau of Charitable Organizations by searching the online database or by calling toll-free: 1-800-732-0999.
 

Your Rights as a Consumer

 
To Obtain Information About Charitable Organizations  

Consumers have the right to know basic information about charitable organizations that will allow them to make better, more-informed charitable giving decisions.  This information includes: 

  • the official name of the charitable organization and its principal place of business; 
  • the organization’s registration status with the Bureau of Charitable Organizations; 
  • an accurate description of the organization’s charitable purpose; 
  • how the organization intends to use donated resources; and 
  • financial information, such as: 
    • the organization’s financial statements and IRS 990 returns that explain how donated resources were used for a given fiscal year.

To Obtain Information Regarding Professional Solicitors  

In addition to volunteers who solicit contributions, many charitable organizations hire professional solicitors to raise funds to accomplish their charitable purposes.  All compensated solicitors are required to register with the bureau. When professional solicitors contact consumers for donations, they must volunteer the following information: 

  • the professional solicitor’s name as it is filed with the Bureau of Charitable Organizations; 
  • the name and address of the charity for which they are soliciting; and 
  • the charitable purpose of the organization for which they are soliciting.

When Dealing with Solicitors, Consumers also have the right to:  

  • ask questions regarding the organization’s operations and accomplishments, and to receive information that is presented fairly and truthfully; 
  • ask questions regarding the solicitor's relationship with the organization.  For example, if you are contacted by a professional solicitor, ask what percentage of funds raised by the solicitor actually reaches the charity.  A charity’s contract with a professional solicitor must set forth the amount the professional solicitor is paid and the amount that goes to the charity; and
  • request their names be removed from any contact lists maintained by a solicitor or the organization for which they are soliciting.

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Modified Date: 02/17/2011 08:58 AM