Secretary Cortes Encourages Pennsylvanians to Make Informed Giving Decisions When Donating to Haitian Earthquake Relief Efforts

Jan 14, 2010, 15:55 ET from Pennsylvania Department of State

HARRISBURG, Pa., Jan. 14 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Secretary of the Commonwealth Pedro A. Cortes today reminded Pennsylvanians to make informed giving decisions to be sure they aren't victimized by charitable solicitation scams following the earthquake in Haiti.

"Many Pennsylvanians are eager to assist Haitians who are suffering and in need," Cortes said. "Unfortunately, a few unscrupulous individuals will use the tragedy to deceive generous individuals and exploit their good intentions.

"Before deciding whether to donate to a specific organization, people should make sure that the group is reputable and actually does the work it claims to do," Cortes said. "Donors should beware especially of groups with names that are often intentionally selected to sound very similar to legitimate organizations.

"If you're unsure if an organization is legitimate, either call the state's Bureau of Charitable Organizations or visit its Web site," Cortes said.

"The bureau offers several helpful resources if you are interested in making the most of your charitable donations. And, make sure you designate that your donation is to be used only to help Haitian earthquake victims if that is your wish."

For example, by visiting, a donor can quickly learn an organization's total income for its most recently completed fiscal year and check what percentage of the organization's income was actually spent fulfilling its charitable purpose versus how much was used for administrative and fundraising expenses. In addition, through a link to the GuideStar Web site, donors can view copies of organizations' official IRS 990 returns that detail how much money the organizations raised and how they spent it.

The Bureau of Charitable Organizations has information on more than 11,000 charities and approximately 400 professional solicitors and fundraising counsels that are registered to solicit charitable contributions in Pennsylvania. The GuideStar Web site has more than 5 million IRS 990 returns available for donors to review.

To obtain this information or to file a complaint, donors can either contact the Bureau toll-free at 1-800-732-0999 or visit the Bureau's Web site at and click on the "Charities" link.

Cortes also offered tips and warnings for charitable giving, such as:

  • Never give to a charity about which you know nothing.
  • Request written information from the charity about its programs and finances.
  • Do not feel pressured into giving on the spot or allow someone to come to your house to pick up the contribution.
  • Never commit to donate over the phone unless you are familiar with the organization.
  • Never give cash, credit card numbers or bank account numbers. Always write a check payable to the charity so you have record of your donations.
  • All charities have expenses, so check carefully and know where your money will go.
  • Consult with your tax advisor to determine whether your contribution is tax deductible.

Media contact: Leslie Amoros or Charlie Young, 717-783-1621

SOURCE Pennsylvania Department of State