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What To Do When A Charity Calls


The Federal "do-not-call" legislation has allowed most Americans to finally enjoy dinner in peace without being hassled by unwanted phone calls from telemarketers. You may not realize, however, that when Congress passed the do-not-call legislation, they exempted themselves (and all other politicians) as well as nonprofit organizations. Since most telemarketing firms have lost for-profit accounts as a result of these laws, many are turning to nonprofit organizations for new business.

In an effort to assist donors bombarded by telephone appeals on behalf of charities, Charity Navigator offers the following tips to help you handle the next call you receive.

  1. Find Out Who's Calling
    Many phone calls soliciting charitable donations come from for-profit professional telemarketers that keep a sizable portion of your donation for themselves and don't really care about the cause they're promoting. Find out if the person with whom you are speaking works for a telemarketing company or is a volunteer or employee of the charity itself.
  2. Ask Where Your Donation Goes
    Professional, for-profit telemarketers typically negotiate their fees ahead of time and know exactly how much of every dollar raised goes to the charity and how much stays with the telemarketer. As various state charity regulator reports confirm, companies often keep a significant of portion of each dollar raised (read our summary of those reports). Sadly, in some cases no money is returned to the charity. So, be sure to ask the person on the other end of the line to tell you how much of your donation will actually end up with the charity. By law, they must tell you.
  3. Get It In Writing
    Ask the person calling to send you a copy of the charity's annual report or a brochure describing its mission and accomplishments. Effective and efficient charities are proud of their accomplishments and are able to provide written materials describing their mission, program accomplishments, and financial information.
  4. Do Some Research
    Begin by checking to see if the charity contacting you is one of the over 5,000 charities that Charity Navigator rates. Charity Navigator's ratings provide clear, objective, and reliable assessments of the Financial Health and Accountability & Transparency of charities. Givers can be confident that in supporting those charities rated highly by Charity Navigator, they will be supporting organizations that are fiscally responsible and financially healthy. If someone contacts you soliciting a donation for a charity that Charity Navigator does not currently rate you can request a copy of the organization's IRS form 990. Federal law requires nonprofit organizations to provide their last 3 IRS form 990s (tax returns) and their IRS form 1023 (application for tax exemption) within 30 days of your request. (Read our guide for additional tips on how to Evaluate Charities Not Currently Rated by Charity Navigator)
  5. Eliminate The Middleman
    If you determine that the telemarketer is calling you on behalf of a charity that you wish to support, contact the charity and find out how to donate to it directly. That way you avoid having part of your donation taken by a for-profit company.

Additional Tips:

  • Never give out credit card, bank account, or other personal information over the phone.
  • Beware of "sound alike" organizations that have names similar to responsible, reputable charities. Don't be swayed merely by a benevolent-sounding name.
  • Remember that you have the right to end the phone call whenever you wish. You should never feel coerced into giving
  • Although you are still eligible to receive calls soliciting contributions after you've registered your phone number with the National Do Not Call Registry, you do have some recourse. If you receive a call from a third-party telemarketer on behalf of a charity (rather than the charity itself), then you can ask that firm to stop calling. If the telemarketing firm calls again soliciting for the same charity, then that firm could face a fine.
  • See also Charity Navigator's 7 Questions To Ask Charities Before Donating.
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