Australians have long been extraordinarily generous when it comes to donating to worthy causes. But with so many worthy causes to choose from, how do donors know their money is going to the right place?
Making donations is voluntary and always an individual donor's choice. You might decide on your own to make a donation, or you might be asked - by letter, email, phone or in person - to donate.
Before you commit to a donation, there are some things you should consider to help ensure your donation is going where you intend it to.
1. Check for the charity's name on the ACNC Charity Register
An important first step to ensure that your donation goes where you intent is to use the ACNC Charity Register to search for the name of the charity that you wish to donate to.
The Register is a free online database of charities that are registered and regulated by the ACNC. It contains useful information about charities, including operating locations, programs, and financial information.
The Charity Register is designed to promote public trust and confidence in charities by increasing the transparency and visibility of charities' publicly available information.
It is also a good idea to check the registers of state or territory fundraising regulators for the names of any organisation asking for a donation. You can visit our Fundraising Hub to find the regulator in your state or territory.
2. Ask for identification from anyone seeking a donation
If approached or contacted by someone requesting a donation, you should ask them for proof that they are from the charity they purport to represent. This proof may be in the form of:
- evidence of authority (issued by the charity) to act on the charity’s behalf.
You can call the charity directly to verify the identity of the fundraiser. You can find the charity's contact details on the Charity Register.
If the person is a member of or working for a charity that is a member of a professional fundraising association (for example, the Fundraising Institute Australia or Public Fundraising Regulatory Association), you can check the person’s or the charity's membership with that association.
It is a good idea not to provide your personal information (for example - your name, address and bank or credit card details) to anyone you do not know, or whose identity you cannot verify.
Prospective donors should never feel pressured to donate. If you are approached for a donation and feel pressured, you should end the conversation.
It is also a good idea to report any intimidating fundraising tactics directly to the charity that the fundraiser is working for.
Being pressured to make a donation can also be a warning sign that the organisation requesting the donation is not legitimate.
3. Be careful of online requests for donations
Be particularly careful if you receive a donation request online, especially if you are asked (by email, for example) to click on a link provided by someone you don't know. If you think an email is suspicious, it is safer to not open the message and to just delete it.
Again, checking the Charity Register is a good start in figuring out the legitimacy of a charity and emails sent in its name. You can also contact the charity directly to confirm if they sent the email.
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 in the aftermath of natural disasters. Speaking with the charity directly can help donor to avoid falling victim to scams.
You can also take other precautions online, such as:
- searching for the charity's official website (if it has one), or find their website address on the Charity Register
- checking that the website is secure before you donate online, by ensuring that the web address begins with 'https' and there is a closed padlock symbol next to the web address in the address bar
- not sharing your personal or financial information by email, and not wiring or transferring money to someone you don't know.
4. Just because a donation is not tax deductible, it doesn't mean the charity is not legitimate
The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) only endorses certain types of charities to offer tax deductions on donations. These charities are known as deductible gift recipients (DGRs).
It is important to note that the majority of Australia's registered charities do not have DGR endorsement.
Being unable to offer a tax deduction for a donation as a DGR is not an indication that the charity is illegitimate or that it's work is not valuable.
To find out if a charity has DGR endorsement, visit the ACNC Charity Register and search for its name. Open the charity's Register page and click on the icon in the top right-hand corner that says 'Will my donation be tax deductible?'
This link will take you to the Australian Business Register's ABN Lookup page for the charity. ABN Lookup is an online service which allows you to check the registration details of any organisation with an Australian Business Number (ABN) - including their tax concessions and whether or not they are endorsed as a deductible gift recipient.
When you open the record for the charity on ABN Lookup, simply scroll to the heading 'Deductible gift recipient status' to see if your donation will be tax deductible.
For more information about making tax deductible donations, see the ATO's guidance about gifts and donations.
5. Find out more about how the charity says it uses donations
There are a number of simple ways you can find out more about how a charity uses any donations it receives.
The first is to do your own research, such as asking friends or family, or researching online. Visit a charity’s website, read its annual report and find out more about its mission, programs and financial situation.
You can also look at a charity's Annual Information Statements and financial reports (if they are required to provide them) on the Charity Register. This may give you an indication of its revenue and expenditure.
Taking the time to verify charitable information and ask questions about where your donation may go is important.