The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) provides a service called Check-A-Charity, which is a website that provides the financial information reported to the department from charitable organizations. When we are called upon to make a contribution or donation to a charity, it can be hard to know which organizations are going to do the most with our money. Because we really want to make a difference, it is important that our money is used well. Check-A-Charity is available to help you make the most-informed choice.
You can view the FDACS Check-A-Charity online database to look up financial summaries of charitable organizations which are registered with the State of Florida. The information in Check-A-Charity is provided as a public service. The charities listed are currently registered with the department; inactive or expired registrations will not display.
On January 1, 1992, the Florida Solicitation of Contributions Act went into effect. This law regulates solicitation of public contributions and requires full disclosure of certain information from persons soliciting contributions in Florida.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is my contribution tax-deductible?
Maybe. Although many organizations are tax-exempt and contributions to their cause are tax-deductible, this is not true of every organization that solicits contributions. Ask for the organization’s tax-exempt number issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Call the IRS for verification.
I have been solicited to make a contribution. What questions should I ask of the organization?
Before agreeing to make a donation:
- Ask to see written information concerning the organization.
- Ask for financial information, such as a copy of the organization’s IRS 990 income tax return, annual report, or a breakdown of how the money is spent.
- Ask how your contribution will be used.
- If solicited by telephone, ask if the caller is a volunteer or a paid solicitor.
How can I prevent solicitation telephone calls?
You cannot. Consumers can subscribe to the Florida Do Not Call List if they do not wish to receive sales calls. However, the law does not apply to telephone calls soliciting contributions.
What about those candy boxes or wishing wells that are found in retail establishments? Is the money really going to a charity?
Sometimes. If a charitable organization placed the donation receptacle at the establishment, then it is probably receiving the funds.
However, other situations exist where the charitable organization identified on the donation receptacle may not receive all the contributions. Some individuals buy donation receptacles as a business and place them at various establishments. The individual agrees to pay a flat monthly fee to the charitable organization, notwithstanding the actual amount of donations deposited in the receptacle. Under such an agreement, the charitable organization may receive as little as $2 per box monthly with the rest kept by the individual.
I have been solicited by groups alleging to represent my local law enforcement officers and firefighters. Are these really law enforcement officers and firefighters calling? Does the money really go to the local agencies?
These organizations, referred to in the law as sponsors, are fraternal organizations and are not a part of your local law enforcement agency or fire department. The members are law enforcement officers or firefighters who may or may not be from your area.
Often these organizations contract with professional fund-raisers to do the soliciting on their behalf. In that case, a portion of the contributions collected on behalf of the organization will go to pay the expenses of the fund-raiser.
How much of my contribution is actually spent for the purpose of the solicitation?
Every organization has administrative expenses, such as salaries, rent, utilities, telephones, etc. Therefore, the amount spent for the organization’s stated purpose will vary depending on the individual organization.
Some organizations may spend as much as 95 percent on their purpose or cause, while others as little as 1 percent – with the remaining portion devoted to administration.
Some organizations hire businesses – professional fund-raisers – to solicit contributions on their behalf. In those situations, the businesses are paid a portion of the money collected for their efforts.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that solicitation of contributions is a form of speech and, therefore, no government entity can limit how much an organization may spend on fund raising, administrative fees, etc. It is up to the prospective donor to ask for the financial information before making a contribution.
Do solicitors have to provide me with financial information about the organization if I request it?
According to the Solicitation of Contributions Act, if you request it, the organization must advise you who to contact to obtain the information. The information must be provided to you within 14 days.
Federal law also requires that a copy of the IRS tax return must be made available upon request.
Consumers also can get information about registered organizations from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
If I agree to make a contribution over the telephone and later change my mind, am I obligated to send the money I pledged?
A contribution is not a debt; therefore, you are under no obligation to follow through on a pledge.
Do all fund-raising organizations have to register with the state?
No. The Florida Solicitation of Contributions Act does not apply to bona fide religious or educational institutions, government agencies or political groups. These groups do not file with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
I often see requests for donations for a named individual or a family. What should I know about these types of solicitations?
Sometimes individuals or groups solicit donations for local families or people in need; such as individuals who require expensive medical care and cannot afford it, or families who have lost their home to fire. This type of charitable solicitation is governed by special guidelines. Before donating, make sure the guidelines are met. Keep in mind the following:
- The law requires that all contributions be deposited in a trust account opened by a trustee who has authority to spend the money.
- The money may also be placed in a depository account. In this case, the circuit court has jurisdiction over distribution of the funds.
- Do not give cash. Contribute by check that is payable to the trust fund, not to an individual.
- Contact the banking institution or circuit court to verify the existence of the account.
- Check locally to confirm that there really is such a need.
How do I check on an organization?
The BBB Wise Giving Alliance helps donors make informed giving decisions and promotes high standards of conduct among organizations that solicit contributions from the public. It produces reports about national charities, evaluating them against comprehensive Standards for Charity Accountability. The BBB WGA does not rank charities but rather seeks to assist donors in making informed judgments about those that solicit their support. Evaluations are done without charge to the charity and are posted for free public access on give.org.
Prospective donors should also contact the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Florida only toll-free hotline at 1-800-HELP-FLA (435-7352) to verify registration and financial information, or visit their online Check-A-Charity. If you are calling from outside Florida call 850-410-3800.