Gessler offers tips for charitable efforts after OK tornado

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Gessler offers tips for charitable efforts after OK tornado

Denver – Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler today urged Coloradans to ensure they donate wisely, so their contributions go to legitimate charities that will meaningfully help victims, families, and Oklahoma residents recover from this disaster. Gessler offered guidance to help Coloradans avoid scams and efficiently direct money to those in need.

“Tragedy like this moves people to help,” Gessler said. “Unfortunately, we often see scams pop up in these situations. I want to make sure all the resources Coloradans donate to the recovery effort are getting to the right place.”

Making a Donation

Existing charities are more likely to have the sound management and experience to quickly respond to a disaster situation, and it will have a track record that you can review. If a charity is new, you may want to do further investigating. You can start at

If you are solicited for a donation, call the charity to see if it is aware of the solicitation and has authorized the use of its name.

Verify with local charities any claims that the soliciting charity will support local organizations.

If you are solicited for a donation over the phone, consider visiting the charities website and donating online through a secured transaction.

When donating online, be sure you are visiting the official website of the charity you wish to support. Do not click on links to charities on unfamiliar websites or in texts or emails. These may take you to a lookalike website where you will be asked to provide personal financial information or to click on something that downloads harmful malware into your computer. Don’t assume that charity recommendations on Facebook, blogs or other social media have already been vetted.

If the charity is required to file the federal form 990, 990-EZ, 990-N, or 990-PF with the IRS, ask to see it. You are also entitled to see a copy of its IRS Application for Tax-Exempt Status and Determination Letter.

When considering gifts to an individual or family, ask the fundraiser whether there is a trust or deposit account established for their benefit. Contact the banking institution to verify the existence of the account, and check locally to confirm that there really is such a need.

When you decide to contribute to an individual or family, contribute by check that is payable to the charity or fund, not to an individual, and mail directly to the charity. Do not give cash.

You cannot deduct contributions earmarked for relief of a particular individual or family, even if they are made to a qualified charitable organization. Ask whether the charitable contribution is tax deductible, and verify with your tax advisor or the IRS. The fact that a charity has a tax identification number does not necessarily mean your contribution is tax-deductible. Ask for a receipt showing the amount of the contribution and stating that it is tax-deductible.

Ask what portion of the contribution will be paid to the charity and make a note of which specific programs your contribution will support.

Watch out for charities with names that sound similar to well-known organizations. Sometimes these sound-alike names are simply intended to confuse donors.

Most charities soliciting funds in Colorado must be registered with the Secretary of State’s office. Ask for the solicitor’s registration number with the Secretary of State, and then confirm that the organization is registered and current with its filings at

If you believe that you have been solicited by a fraudulent charity, please file a complaint with the Secretary of State (, or the Attorney General (800-222-4444).

Raising Funds

Under Colorado law, most charities and individuals that solicit contributions in Colorado are required to register with our office. The law also makes two important distinctions:

1. Volunteers who have written authorization from a charity to raise funds on the charity’s behalf are exempt from the registration requirement.

2. Individuals exclusively making an appeal for funds on behalf of a specific individual named in the solicitation are exempt from the registration requirement, as long as all of the proceeds of the solicitation are given to or expended for the direct benefit of the specified individual. Any money destined for a specific individual or family is considered a private gift, not a charitable donation, and they are not tax-deductible.

If you wish to establish a fund to assist victims of a tragedy, be especially careful to respect the wishes of the victim’s family and friends. The law requires that you have written permission to use the names or photographs of any person or organization in your fundraising appeals, so be aware that your well-intentioned efforts could be derailed by harsh criticism from victims’ families if you fail to obtain their permission first.

Be specific and transparent about how the funds will help victims or their families and how quickly collected funds will be spent. A best practice is to post an accounting of the fund on your website and update the receipts and expenditures frequently in order to head off any concerns about transparency. Donors may not be satisfied to wait for the results of a financial audit of the funds.

Any private assistance fund should be received and administered by a responsible third party, such as a bank, CPA, or attorney.

For additional assistance, you may want to contact a regional nonprofit resource center or an association, like the Colorado Nonprofit Association, the Center for Nonprofit Excellence, or Community Resource Center. These organizations offer educational materials and advice on nonprofits, including volunteering for relief efforts and forming a 501(c)(3) charitable organization.

The IRS has resources on its website to help people involved in providing disaster relief through charities.

If you wish to start a nonprofit to help raise funds, our office has also created a checklist of issues to consider when forming a business or nonprofit. Before starting a nonprofit, you may want to seek guidance from an attorney, tax, or business consultant.