It can make you feel helpless when a situation is not in your control. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this is especially true. To gain back a sense of control, many people have tapped into their generosity to address local needs.
Despite restrictions on being able to physically go out and lend a hand in the community, Americans have displayed great acts of charity and found ways to give. In fact, Americans donated $2.47 billion on Giving Tuesday in 2020 — a 25% increase from 2019. If you are a retiree who feels called to give and have the means to do so, you can make sure your money or goods go to a well-meaning source by reviewing the guide below.
How to give
Donations don’t always have to go to a charity. If a family florist in town you’ve been going to for years is struggling, you might consider making a small donation to help them keep the business afloat. Or, if there’s a neighbor who recently lost their job, consider organizing a pool of donations from you and others in the neighborhood to give them a helping hand.
Of course, donating to a traditional charity or non-profit is no less generous. Many Cincinnatians have enlisted the services of charities or non-profits over the years, but 2020 saw an increased need.
From January to November 2020, 982 people in Hamilton County were living unsheltered on the streets (a 28% increase from the same stretch of time in 2019).
Donating this year can do more than warm your heart. If you are 70 ½ or older, donating to a 501(c) (3) charity — such as a foodbank or religious institution — comes with additional benefits if you give directly from a traditional IRA. Because the withdrawal is going to a qualified charity, you can donate up to $100,000 without declaring the amount as taxable income.
If you live in or around the Cincinnati area, here are a few charities or non-profits you may consider donating to:
- La Soupe – La Soupe takes over-ordered or "ugly" produce from local grocers and farmers, transforms it into nutritious soups, sides, and salads, and shares the nutritious meals with families experiencing food insecurity.
- The Music Resource Center (MRC) – MRC is a nonprofit music studio for teenagers in East Walnut Hills that uses recording, performing arts, and life skills mentoring to empower students.
- Operation Give Back – This nonprofit strives for equity in education. Every year, 45 students in grades 1 – 8 attending Sycamore Community Schools receive 2½ hours of after-school tutoring. Operation Give Back also gives students and families access to an onsite Food Pantry.
- Interfaith Hospitality Network – This non-profit shelters families experiencing homelessness. They even have a pet program, which houses and cares for the pets of individuals staying in their shelter or other homeless shelters in Cincinnati. Donate here.
- Cincinnati Public Schools – This school district is the third-largest public school district in the state of Ohio. See how you can make a difference in a local child’s education here.
- Vincent de Paul – This charity offers a wide range of services benefiting both individuals and families, including food pantries, a pharmacy, and access to clothing and basic needs. See the many ways you can donate here.
- Bethany House Services – This non-profit provides homelessness services to empower families to reach self-sufficiency. For ideas on how to give to Bethany House Services, click here.
- Freestore Foodbank – This foodbank provides 37.7 million meals a year in 20 counties in Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana. You can learn more about their current donation needs here.
How to steer clear of scams
The AARP reports as of November 12th, it has logged over 250,000 complaints related to the pandemic and the average victim lost around $320 as a result of these scams. Retirees may be a bigger target for fraud because scammers think this group has more assets and savings overall.
While scammers may have their attention on your age group, you can breathe a sigh of relief and know you are donating safely by enlisting the following tips.
1. Familiarize yourself with known scams
In October, the FBI issued a press release about charity fraud related to COVID-19. Among these schemes are phishing emails, which is a type of online scam in which criminals may impersonate a legitimate organization in order to trick the reader. In this case, the criminal may try to trick the recipient into making a fraudulent charitable contribution.
Do not click on emails from addresses you don’t recognize. These emails could be an attempt to download viruses onto your computer or smart phone. Always double check the spelling of the email address — scammers are known to use names similar in spelling to well-known charities.
As well, the email address may not match the name of the charity mentioned in the subject line. Minding these red flags will help you avoid scams while using your devices.
2. Research the charity
The internet is a wonderful tool to confirm whether a charity or non-profit is legitimate. Utilize search engines like Google to pull up information or go directly to resources like the Better Business Bureau®.
Visit the Ohio Attorney General’s website to search for an organization's name. Search results for a registered charity will pull up the organization name, their employee identification number, and the city and state they are located in. If a charity is listed in this data base, you can feel more secure knowing your money is going to a good source.
If you ever run across what you suspect is a scam, you can file a complaint with the Ohio Attorney General.
3. Ask questions
If you find yourself talking to a potential scammer over the phone or in person, don’t be afraid to ask questions, whether it be information about the organization name and location (you can use this to research and confirm the legitimacy of an organization later), their mission statement, or the manner in which your donation will be used.
4. Pay smart
Never use a wire transfer to make a first-time donation. This is an immediate form of payment, so once the scammer accepts the wire transfer, it can’t be reversed. After confirming the legitimacy of a charity or non-profit, pay with a credit card instead.
The best credit cards come with theft protections, giving you an added safety net should someone take advantage of your generosity. If you fall victim to a scam, contact your credit union to dispute the charge immediately. They will block the card so no more fraudulent charges are made, then order you a new card.
Donating during the pandemic is a way for us to all help safely from the sidelines. Whether you’re making a contribution to a small business or a well-known charity, you are making an impact. And with the right precautions, you can feel secure in knowing your money is being used for good in the community.
General Electric Credit Union is your trusted financial partner and advocate whether you need to check your balance before making a contribution or report a fraudulent charge.