Places to Check Before Donating to a Children's Cancer Charity

Shortly after Joey was diagnosed with cancer, we found out that the mom of one of Slim's preschool classmates was planning a surprise fundraiser for us. I didn't know this woman other than the conversations I had with her in the drop-off and pick-up line. She seemed nice, and I accepted her friend request on Facebook.

Hubby and I found out from our friends and family that she had contacted people from my Facebook friends list about helping her put together this fundraiser. She planned a meeting, and thankfully, my brother and sister-in-law went along with a woman from Hubby's office who was also friends with my brother and SIL. They were very suspicious about this woman's motives and told her so. In the end, Hubby called her and said thanks but no thanks, and please stop contacting our family and friends. She promptly unfriended me and I never heard from her again.

Now, I want to believe that she only had good intentions in her heart. After all, why would someone take advantage of a family whose child was sick? While I'll never know her true intentions, sadly there are so many people who will do anything to scam money from people, even if it means taking advantage of people while they are at their most vulnerable.

I think most of us are cautious enough to care for our money, but I also think people are getting sneakier and smarter these days. The Internet provides multiple opportunities for scammers. Look at the prominence of websites such as Go Fund Me and GiveFoward. These sites carefully research each request that comes through and I have personally donated to some causes, but only ones where I knew the people or knew someone who knew them well. I'm sure many rip-off sites have been started based off their premise.

So how do you protect your money when your heartstrings are being tugged, especially during pediatric cancer awareness month? You have to know a little bit about how reputable charities work and choose to give only to them.

Tax exempt status:

Charitable organizations need to have a tax exempt status of 501(c)(3) which means:

"The exempt purposes set forth in section 501(c)(3) are charitable, religious, educational, scientific, literary, testing for public safety, fostering national or international amateur sports competition, and preventing cruelty to children or animals.  The term charitable is used in its generally accepted legal sense and includes relief of the poor, the distressed, or the underprivileged; advancement of religion; advancement of education or science; erecting or maintaining public buildings, monuments, or works; lessening the burdens of government; lessening neighborhood tensions; eliminating prejudice and discrimination; defending human and civil rights secured by law; and combating community deterioration and juvenile delinquency."

According to the IRS, "To be tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, an organization must be organized and operated exclusively for exempt purposes set forth in section 501(c)(3), and none of its earnings may inure to any private shareholder or individual. In addition, it may not be an action organization, i.e., it may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities and it may not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates."

There are very strict laws and requirements and a lot of hoops an organization has to jump through in order to gain this tax-exempt status. The charitable organization needs a governing board, and that governing board needs to meet a required amount of times per year. Operating expenses and budget reports must be submitted and any money coming in and going out is highly scrutinized and tracked.

A scammer is not going to go through all that trouble to apply for 501(c)(3) status. We hope.

Better Business Bureau Accredited Charities:

According to the Better Business Bureau, "an accredited charity is an organization that meets all 20 of the BBB Standards for Charity Accountability based on a review of information and materials provided by the organization. There is no charge to the charity for the evaluation completed by the BBB. Charities are not legally required to submit information and materials to the BBB for evaluation." The 20 standards include the ways they govern their organization, the ways they spend their money, the truthfulness of their representations, and their willingness to disclose basic information to the public. 

Again, to me, any organization that is on the up-and-up will have no problem disclosing their records to the Better Business Bureau. From there, you can decide what is important to you. For example, many of my friends have worked for Alex's Lemonade Stand and love what they are doing for cancer research, funding, and assistance. However, according to the BBB, they are not an accredited organization because they do not meet ONE of the 20 requirements - compensated board members. I have personally been contacted by ALSF in the past, and I would have no problem holding a lemonade stand or donating to their organization. They do meet all 19 other requirements and at least they are being honest and disclosing their reports. 

Check here to determine if a charity you are considering donating to is BBB accredited. 

Federal Trade Commission's Charity Checklist:

The FTC is an independent agency of the United States government whose mission "is the promotion of consumer protection and the elimination and prevention of anticompetitive business practices, such as coercive monopoly." (Wikipedia) In short, they want to help us protect and spend our money wisely. They have studied the practices of charities and know when consumers are being scammed. For example if an organization's name sounds closely like a well-known charity's name, it's probably fake. If a charity refuses to give you detailed information about how it's money is spent, they are probably hiding something. If the charity needs the money in cash or right away, DON'T GIVE!

This page gives detailed information on what to watch out for, signs of charity scams, and what to ask before letting go of your hard-earned money. You can also report a charity scam there.

Other Charity Checker Sites:

Charity Navigator - Evaluates the "financial health, accountability, and transparency" of over 7,000 of America's largest charities (though I was sad to see that no pediatric cancer charities were currently "trending" on their site).

CharityWatch - Has rated over 600 charities. Charities on their "top rated list" generally spend 75% or more of their budgets on programs, spend $25 or less to raise $100 in public support, do not hold excessive assets in reserve, and receive "open-book" status for disclosure of basic financial information and documents to CharityWatch. Charities are given an A-F status according to criteria met (though please note that they ask for a donation to receive a more comprehensive guide to their ratings).

GuideStar - Here you can get up-to-date information, like IRS data, on thousands of non-profits for free. They provide as much information as they can about each charity's  mission, legitimacy, impact, reputation, finances, programs, transparency, and governance.

I also found some more helpful information on what to consider from this New York Times article.

After doing my research, here are some of the top charities related to children's cancer that I would (and have) given my money to that meet all 20 BBB standards, are all classified 501(c)(3), and received 3 or 4 stars out of 4 on Charity Navigator (in alphabetical order): 

Children's Brain Tumor Foundation
Children's Tumor Foundation
Give Kids the World
Locks of Love
Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation
Ronald McDonald House Charities
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital

Here is a runner-up list of charities that are BBB accredited:

Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Family Alliance
St. Baldrick's Foundation

And here are two organizations that seek to do good things that are smaller and closer to my heart:

Donna's Good Things
Team Jack Foundation


Alex's Lemonade Stand (which IS 501(c)(3) and is rated 4 out of 4 stars on Charity Navigator).

*Please note, this is just MY opinion, my personal experience with some of these organizations, and MY research. If it is in your heart to donate time or money to a charity, please do it. Just be sure to fully research an organization first before spending your precious time or hard-earned money on their cause. 

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