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Factsheet: Making sure your donation gets to where it needs to

Australians are among the most generous people in the world per-capita when it comes to making donations to worthy causes. But with so many good causes, how do you know that your money is going to the right place?

Donating is completely voluntary and always your choice. You might decide to make a donation or you may be contacted – by letter, email, phone or in person – and asked to donate.

Here are some steps to consider to help make sure your donation is going where it is intended.

1. Check the organisation’s name

Just because you may not have heard of an organisation, this does not mean it is not legitimate. The first step you can take is to search for the name on the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) Register. This is a free online database of all charities (organisations with charitable purposes for the benefit of the public) registered in Australia with the ACNC. The Register contains core information about more than 57,000 charities, such as where they are based or their tax status.

The Register is designed to promote public trust and confidence in charities, by increasing the transparency of the information available about charities. It can, however, only say that a charity meets our registration requirements. A charity may also have other obligations such as to an incorporating or fundraising regulator. In most states and territories the fundraising regulator holds a register of organisations licensed to fundraise – see the contact list of state and territory regulators below.

If the charity is listed on the ACNC Register you can be sure that there is a properly registered charity of that name. However, as registration is voluntary, not all charities will be on our register. Organisations that are seeking donations should also be checked with your state or territory fundraising regulator available here - see the contact list of state and territory regulators below.

2. Ask for identification from anyone seeking a donation

You can ask the person who is making the request for:

  • some kind of identification, and
  • evidence of authority (issued by the registered charity) to act on the charity’s behalf. If the person is a member of a fundraising professionals association (such as Fundraising Institute of Australia or Educate Plus) you can check the person’s membership with that association.

You can call the charity itself to verify the identity of the collector. If you feel pressured to donate, you can ask for details and say that you will decide later. Being pressured to make a donation can be a warning sign. If a person has attended your home and you feel pressured or uncomfortable, you can ask them to leave.

Exercise the normal care in giving out your personal information (your name, address and bank or credit card details) to anyone you do not know, or cannot verify.

3. Be careful of online requests for donations

If you receive a request online, be particularly careful, especially if you are asked (by email, for example) to click on a link provided by someone you do not know. If you think an email is suspicious, it is safer not to open the message and to delete it unopened. Again, if you are wondering about the name of a charity you can check the ACNC Register.

Even well-known charities can be the subject of scammers – fake sites and campaigns have been set up to divert money away from legitimate charities and causes, particularly around disaster events.

You can take some precautions online. Search for the charity’s official website, if it has one, and make sure the web address begins with 'https' and that there is a closed padlock symbol next to the website’s URL in the address bar. Avoid sending your personal information by email, or wiring money to someone you do not know.

4. No tax deduction doesn’t mean the charity is not a legitimate one

Not all charities (or not-for-profits) are able to receive tax deductible gifts, but this only reflects the type of charity they are and does not reflect the value of their work.

You can use the ACNC Register to link to a registered charity's entry on ABN Lookup, which allows you to find basic information about a registered charity, including any tax concessions it receives and whether it is a deductible gift recipient (DGR). If you donate to a charity with DGR status then you can claim a tax deduction for any donation you make of $2 or more. The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has more guidance for individuals about deductions and gifts.

However, not all organisations with DGR status are charities and will not appear on the ACNC Register.

Again if in doubt, check with your state or territory fundraising regulator available here – see the contact list of state and territory regulators below.

5. Find out more about how the charity says it uses donations

Do your own research – ask friends or family, or research online. You can visit a charity’s website, read its annual report and find out more about its activities, its mission and its financial situation.

You can also look at a charity’s financial reports (if they do report – not all are required to). Financial reports should be audited or reviewed by a registered professional (such as an auditor). A lot of this information is also available on the ACNC Register under the charity’s ‘annual reporting’ entry.

As with any business affairs, it is wise to exercise caution but also to not let the need to do so prevent you from giving. Take the time to verify charitable information and asks rather than choosing not to give at all. Your support is needed and important.

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