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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 voluntary and always your choice. You might decide to make a donation or you may be asked – by letter, email, phone or in person – to donate. Before you commit to a donation, there are some things to consider to help you make sure your donation is going where it is intended.

1. Check the charity's name

Just because you may not have heard of a charity, it does not mean that it is not legitimate. The first step you can take is to search for the name on the ACNC Charity Register. This is a free online database of charities registered with the ACNC and contains useful information, including charities' operating locations and annual reporting.

The Charity Register is designed to promote public trust and confidence in charities, by increasing the transparency of the information available about charities. And although it does this, it is important to realise that the Charity Register doesn't note any of the obligations a charity may have to other agencies (for example, an incorporating or fundraising regulator) and, as such, doesn't display any registration statuses or licences it may have - or not have - with other regulators.

If the charity is listed on the Charity Register, you can be sure that it is registered and regulated by the ACNC. However, as registration with the ACNC is voluntary, there may be some organisations that choose to not be on our register. It is a good idea to also check the registers of state or territory fundraising regulators for the names of an organisation asking for donations.

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 charity) to act on the charity’s behalf. If the person is a member, or working for a charity that is a member, of a professional fundraising association (for example, Fundraising Institute Australia or Public Fundraising Regulatory Association), you can check the person’s or the charity's membership with that association.

You can call the charity itself to verify the identity of the fundraiser. If you feel pressured to donate, you can say that you will decide later and ask for information and contact details from the person. Being pressured to make a donation can be a warning sign. If the person fundraising for a charity is in your home and you feel pressured or uncomfortable, you should ask them to leave. It is also a good idea to report any intimidating fundraising tactics directly to the charity that the fundraiser is working for.

Exercise the normal care when 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 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.

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.

You can take some precautions online. Search for the charity’s official website, if it has one, and before you donate online, check that it is secure - make sure the web address begins with 'https' and there is a closed padlock symbol next to the web address 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

Only certain types of charities are endorsed by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) to offer tax deductions on donations - called deductible gift recipients (DGRs). In fact, the majority of registered charities don't have this DGR endorsement. Not being able to offer a tax deduction for a donation as a DGR is not an indication that the charity is illegitimate or that its work isn't valuable - DGR endorsement is just a tax concession that some charities are entitled to. For some people, being able to claim the donation back on their personal tax is important in making a decision to donate, but for others it isn't.

From the the Charity Register, you can check a charity's listing on ABN Lookup to see the tax concessions it has and whether it is endorsed as a DGR. If you donate to a charity with DGR endorsement then you can claim the amount back as a tax deduction (if it is $2 or more). The ATO has more guidance for individuals about deductions and gifts.

It is important to note that not all organisations endorsed as DGRs are charities. There are some DGR types that are not charities and, while they are themselves legitimate organisations, they will not appear on the Charity Register. If you are unsure about the organisation in such cases, you may want to check with the state or territory fundraising regulator.

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

Do your own research – ask friends or family, or research online. 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 are required to provide them – not all are) on the Charity Register. This may give you an indication of its revenue and expenditure.

It is wise to exercise caution but do not let the need to do so prevent you from giving. Take the time to verify charitable information and ask questions rather than choosing not to give at all. Your support is needed and important.

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