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Wise Giving Wednesday: Supporting Civil Rights Organizations

Jun 10, 2020

Many donors are motivated to give in response to the protest movement addressing racial justice issues. So, we thought we would provide tips to help you make wise giving decisions regarding charities addressing civil rights, free speech, legal rights and related topics. We also have included a starter list of BBB Accredited Charities (i.e., charities that meet all 20 of the BBB Standards for Charity Accountability) that appear to work in such areas. We hope these tips will help you give with greater confidence to charities of your choice.

Find if they have a clear plan

Consider looking beyond the organization’s name and website graphics and find out if they are clear about their planned use for solicited funds. Be careful about organizations that provide detailed descriptions of problems or set high financial goals “we want to raise $10 million” but provide vague or spare explanations about how they will address the issues.

Look for details when appeals are highly emotional

Almost all charity appeals have an emotional component that inspires donors to give. Use caution, however, if you find the heart-wrenching approach is used to an excessive extent and the content has a lack of details about the organization plans to address its mission. Before reacting, look for additional information about how the charity will carry out is programs and services.

Review the track record of experienced charities 

Charities with significant experience in addressing civil rights and related matters can provide an additional degree of assurance. They have a track record that you can review such as annual reports, financial statements and the financial form filed with the IRS - Form 990. They also may have developed skills and activities that have proven to be effective. If you don’t see a charity report on Give.org or BBB.org, information such as a charity’s tax status and  IRS Form 990 may be available at apps.irs.gov/app/eos

Newly established groups are more difficult to vet

Charities that are newly established can provide an element of excitement and potential for creative ideas, but they are harder to check out, especially if have not completed their first full fiscal year. A financial statement or annual report will not yet be available. If a donor wants to consider supporting a new group, see if their website includes: (a) a clear description of their program service activities, (b) a plan that identifies how much they want to raise and explains how they plan to spend it, and (c) a board roster that identifies the professional affiliations of board members. A donor in the U.S. also may want to ask to see a copy of their IRS Form 1023, the application form for their charity tax-exempt status.

Check their social media

Review the charity’s social media to get up to date information on their activities, especially if you are interested in how they are responding to current issues.

Direct support or redistribution

Some charities raise funds for activities that they will carry out directly. Others may be collecting funds with the intention of re-distributing money to other organizations that will carry out the work. While you can support either organization, you may want to verify the type of charity you are considering. You always have the option of “cutting out the middle man” by directly supporting charities “with boots on the ground.”

Check with state charity officials

In about 40 states, charities are required to register before soliciting, usually with either the office of the attorney general or office of the secretary of state.

Not all soliciting groups are charities

Not all nonprofit organizations that are soliciting you for donations about civil rights and related matters are charities, tax exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. It is okay to support other groups with the understanding that your contribution may not be deductible as a charitable donation for federal income tax purposes.

Crowdfunding cautions

While charities can be vetted, it is much more difficult to assess the trustworthiness of individuals who have posted a request for assistance. As a result, it is safest to give to crowdfunding postings of people you personally know. Some crowdfunding platforms do a better job of vetting postings and projects that appear on their site than others. Review the site’s description of its procedures. If they do take precautions, they generally announce that fact loudly to help encourage giving. If a crowdfunding posting is claiming to be helping a specific named individual or family, donors in the U.S. generally cannot take a federal income tax deduction, even if the individual or family is in need. Vague descriptions of how the collected funds will be used should also be a yellow caution light. 

BBB Accredited Charities addressing racial justice as well as other civil rights, free speech, and/or legal issues

Below is a list of soliciting charities that meet the 20 BBB Standards for Charity Accountability (i.e.,, are BBB Accredited.) Some of them are nationally soliciting charities evaluated by the BBB Wise Giving Alliance. Others are regionally-soliciting charities evaluated by the BBB Foundation of Metropolitan New York.  There is no charge to charities for the accreditation assessment and reports are available to the public on Give.org or BBB.org.

ACLU Foundation
Advocates for Children of New York
African Services Committee
Amnesty International
Arab-American Family Support Center
Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund
Center for Constitutional Rights
Children’s Defense Fund
Children’s Rights
Chinese-American Planning Council
Demos
Equality Florida Institute
Erase Racism
Her Justice
Human Rights Watch
Immigration Equality
Latino Justice PRLDF
Legal Action Center
Legal Aid Society
Muslim Advocates
NAACP
National Immigration Forum
National Urban League
Native American Rights Fund
Pro Bono Net
Resist
SAGE Advocacy & Services for LGBT Elders
The Arc
The Sikh Coalition
Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights
Zonta International Foundation

Canadian-based charities:  If you are considering donating to a Canadian-based charity, there is a list of Registered Charities provided by the Government of Canada, which can be found here. While the registration with this government agency does not mean the government is recommending or endorsing the charity, it does signify that the group has filed the appropriate paperwork with this agency.


Video of the Week

The BBB Wise Giving Alliance is proud of our network of trusted accredited charities, which are rising to the challenge of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic in innovative ways to safely serve us all. Art Taylor speaks with Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, CEO of Feeding America (a BBB Accredited Charity), about delivering programs during this challenging time.

Finally, remember to let us know by going to www.give.org/charity-inquiry if you are interested in seeing a report on a charity not on the list and we will do our best to produce one.

H. Art Taylor, President & CEO
BBB Wise Giving Alliance