The holidays are a time for sharing our blessings with those we love and those in need. It is by giving these blessings away that they grow and bear fruit for both giver and receiver. We’ve all seen this in action, when we give to others we are doubly blessed and feel even better. In fact, studies show that those who give out of generosity live longer and happier lives. Usually, at this time of year, Delegate Mark Sickles, my colleague from the General Assembly, and I hold a toy drive along with an annual holiday cookie party. We end up with a car or two loaded with toys that are then distributed by United Community to vulnerable families unable to provide new toys for their children for the holidays. These toys are a testament to the generosity of the wonderful and caring community we live in. This year, due to the Covid virus, we are not holding a toy drive but are instead encouraging the public to donate locally to one of our many outstanding charities serving our community.
Indeed, this holiday will be a tough one for too many of our neighbors and friends. Now is the time not only to give generously to your favorite charities but also to give wisely and knowingly. In Virginia, we have laws governing how a charity may solicit your support. Below are some holiday and end-of-year giving tips.
Research the charities you plan to support and know how your donations will be used. I encourage everyone to search the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) database http://cos.va-vdacs.com/cgi-bin/char_search.cgi and https://www.guidestar.org/ to learn more about your favorite charities before making any donation. To be able to solicit contributions in Virginia, charities are required to register with the VDACS and to disclose the organization’s leadership, mission, financial statements, and any professional fundraisers they work with. They also must provide a copy of their governing documents.
When you are called at home, the solicitor must make disclosures that include stating affirmatively that they are a “paid solicitor” and on whose behalf they are calling. You should ask for the charity’s registration number as well as if they are a “paid solicitor,” make a note of the caller’s name and the percentage of the donation that will go to the charity, whether the donation is tax-deductible, and what charitable programs it will support. Copies of the charity’s financial reports are available at the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, P.O. Box 1163, Richmond, VA 23218.
Unfortunately, some charities will use high-pressure tactics to solicit donations but fail to explain how the donation will be used. These groups tell potential donors that it is “critical” that they donate “immediately.” Reputable charities will not use such ‘sky is falling’ tactics.
Here are other good tips to consider when giving:
Resist pressure to give on the spot, whether from a telemarketer or door-to-door solicitor, and beware if they thank you for making a pledge you don't remember making. If you feel uncomfortable, just say, "No, thank you."
Do not give cash. Donate by check made payable to the charity or use the charity's website to donate by credit card or download a form and mail it back.
Be wary if the charity fails to provide detailed information about its identity, mission, finances, and how the donation will be used. Reputable charities will gladly provide the information requested.
Also, this year, as part of the CARES Act, taxpayers who don’t itemize may take a charitable donation of up to $300 for cash contributions made in 2020 to qualifying charitable organizations.
Here Are Some Excellent Local Choices
And, remember especially to consider our many fine local nonprofits serving our community here in the 44th District: United Community (https://www.unitedcommunity.org/), Good Shepherd Housing (https://goodhousing.org/), New Hope Housing (https://www.newhopehousing.org/), Mount Vernon at Home (http://www.mountvernonathome.org/), and Alice’s Kids (https://aliceskids.org/), just to name a few. Be supportive of giving to those in need, many are counting on you, especially during this pandemic. But, always do thorough research on the charities you support.