Skip to main content

Guard yourself against sham charities

By Tre Hargett
updated 8:15 AM EST, Wed January 29, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Money from a charity to help victims of Sandy Hook shooting has gone missing
  • Tre Hargett: Sham charities that exploit compassionate people are more common
  • He says Americans must do some research on charities before donating money
  • Hargett: Don't let your money fall into the wrong hands, and never give cash

Editor's note: Tre Hargett is the secretary of state of Tennessee.

(CNN) -- The 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut was tragic enough, but what has been playing out over the last few weeks has made the story even more stomach-wrenching.

More than half the money raised by the 26.4.26 Foundation, a Tennessee-based charity that ostensibly was established to help the shooting victims' families, has turned up missing along with one of the organization's co-founders.

As I write this column, law enforcement officials here in my state and elsewhere are trying to figure out why about $70,000 of the more than $100,000 raised by the group never made it to those families.

Tre Hargett
Tre Hargett

Unfortunately, this type of story has become far too common among charitable organizations. There are unscrupulous people in the world who try to exploit tragedies in order to enrich themselves. These people take advantage of the wonderful human trait of compassion for others. They undermine the most noble of selfless acts made on behalf of our brothers and sisters in need.

So while our generous response to tragic events such as floods, fires, earthquakes or horrific crimes is admirable, it needs to be tempered with a sense of caution.

When we spend our hard-earned money to buy goods or services, it is reasonable to compare prices and research product quality. We do this because we want to make wise purchasing decisions.

It is imperative that we apply the same logic to our charitable contributions.

In Tennessee, with a few exceptions, charitable organizations are required to register with the Secretary of State's Division of Charitable Solicitations and Gaming and file annual financial reports. Many other states have similar reporting requirements.

Would-be donors who take the time to review these reports can learn a lot about charities that are soliciting funds -- such as how much of their funds are used for administrative costs and other expenses and how much are used to actually provide services to the needy.

Of course, not all charities follow the law. The 26.4.26 Foundation didn't register in Tennessee.

If a charity hasn't registered in a state where it's required to do so, then that should raise a red flag for potential donors.

In addition to the information charities must provide to state governments, there are nonprofit organizations such as the Better Business Bureau, Charity Navigator, Charity Watch and GuideStar that can be useful resources.

Also, it helps to follow some basic rules before making a donation to a charity. Reputable charities shouldn't object if you want to do some research and send them a donation later.

Ask questions such as:

-- How will the money you donate be used?

-- How long has the charity been in operation? Where are its offices?

-- What types of programs and services would your donation help fund?

-- How much of the donation would be spent on the organization's administrative expenses and other costs?

-- Would a portion of the donation be kept by the solicitor as a fee?

If you get vague or unsatisfactory answers to those types of questions, you need to carefully consider whether your money might be better spent elsewhere.

Also, don't ever make cash contributions. It's much easier for cash to be misspent and it's more difficult for donors to claim cash contributions as deductions on their tax forms. When paying by check, make the check payable to the organization, not an individual. And only pay with a credit card if the organization is well established and highly trusted. Otherwise, you may be opening yourself up to the potential of identity theft.

When tragedy strikes, we should help victims as quickly as possible. However, by taking the time to do a little research before giving to a charity, donors could prevent their money from falling into the wrong hands.

And that, in turn, would help ensure that the truly needy get the aid and comfort they deserve.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Tre Hargett.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Carlos Moreno says atheists, a sizable fraction of Americans, deserve representation in Congress.
updated 12:25 PM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Democrats and unions have a long history of mutual support that's on the decline. But in a time of income inequality they need each other more than ever
updated 12:23 AM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
William McRaven
Peter Bergen says Admiral William McRaven leaves the military with a legacy of strategic thinking about special operations
updated 12:11 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
updated 1:24 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
updated 9:06 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
updated 11:54 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat August 30, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT