WASHINGTON – Almost 90 percent of Marylanders who are solicited over the phone by an unfamiliar charity worry they might be getting scammed, according to a preliminary data from a survey commissioned by state nonprofits.
Data from the survey for the Maryland Association of Nonprofit Organizations also shows that close to three-fourths of state residents believe that recent scandals at some national organizations have hurt the public image of state charities.
“I think that people use what they learn in the media and they use what they hear about in sensational stories and it all kind of builds up,” said Amy Coates Madsen of the nonprofits association.
The association is trying to quell those fears in Maryland givers with a new program designed to promote public trust in the state’s charity organizations.
In October, it approved seven Maryland charities for inclusion in its new “Standards for Excellence” program, a voluntary, peer-review certification program, sort of a stamp of approval for well-run charities.
Organizations named to the program must demonstrate that they adhere to 55 specified standards, describing how nonprofits should act to be ethical and accountable in their program operations, human resources, financial management and fund raising.
“Donors can use the standards as kind of a blueprint and inform themselves about the principles and practices of nonprofits,” said Madsen, the program director.
“Many groups are actively using the code to strengthen their organization,” said Madsen, who expects the number of certified groups to grow.
Charitable organizations that solicit contributions from Marylanders or are located in the state must register with the secretary of state’s office if they collect more than $25,000 in donations a year or use a professional service to solicit funds.
Donors can check with the secretary of state’s office to see if a charity is registered and to learn about its goals, the amount of money it is raising and a breakdown of how the money is used. More than 3,900 charities are listed with the state’s charitable organizations office.
The secretary of state’s office said there are other red flags that potential donors should be aware of when dealing with a telephone solicitor. They include:
* A refusal to send you written material or financial information about the organization.
* An offer to send a courier to collect your contribution in person.
* Sending an invoice or statement which indicates a payment due for a contribution you never pledged.
* Using an organization name and logo that closely resembles another charity with a similar purpose.