Spending money for good

With thousands of charities competing for your donation, it's important to do some research to make sure your money is being used for the cause you want to support. It is also essential to make sure that the charity is actually receiving your donation.

Here are some things to think about before you donate.

1. Choosing a charity

2. Ways to donate

3. Check it's a legitimate charity

4. Check if it's tax deductible

5. Complain if you have a problem

Choosing a charity

Your decision to support one charity over another is usually based on your interest in the cause the charity supports. You may also choose a charity as a way of remembering a deceased relative or friend. Whatever your motivation, it's important to make sure you are comfortable with the charity's activities and how it plans to use the donations it receives.

Donating directly to an overseas-based charity can be risky as it may be difficult to verify the information found on websites or social media sites.

You may prefer to donate to an Australian charity that supports the cause or project you're interested in. Many Australian charities operate overseas but are based in Australia.

Ways to donate

There are a number of ways you can donate.

One-off or ongoing

You may decide to make a regular, set donation or you may prefer making a one-off donation following a particular fundraising campaign or an urgent need, like a natural disaster. Sometimes a charity will approach you directly for a cash donation or to participate in a fundraiser such as a raffle. This can happen on the street, over the phone or at your front door.

Work-place giving

You can also support a charity through automatic deductions from your salary. If your employer has a workplace giving scheme your donation can be deducted from your pay and sent directly to your preferred charity.

You will gain tax benefits at the time of donation and receive a summary of payment at the end of the year.

To participate in any workplace giving program, the charity must have deductible gift recipient (DGR) status.

Bequest in your will

Another way of donating is to leave a bequest in your will. Contact the charity directly to discuss your plans.

Get involved

Donating to charity doesn't necessarily mean a cash donation. You can contribute to your favourite charity by making a donation of goods, your time or even your skills or expertise.

Check it's a legitimate charity

Questions to ask

If the name of the charity is unfamiliar, you should ask for more information about the charity, for example:

1. What cause do you support?

2. Where is the charity based?

3. What are donations used for?

4. Are you affiliated with any other charities or organisations?

5. Are donations tax deductible?

It pays to be careful, even if you get a satisfactory response to these questions.

Even if you've heard of the charity, you should check that the person who contacts you is authorised to represent the charity.

If you've been approached face-to-face, ask to see some identification and a copy of the charity's pledge form. These should contain:

1. the full name of the organisation

2. the corporate registration number such as an Australian Business Number

3. the business address

4. the organisation's logo

You should also call the charity directly to verify their contact details. Be sure to cross check their phone number in the telephone directory.

You can also check the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) website, to see if the charity is registered.

Be wary of giving credit card details

If you've been contacted by phone do not give out your credit card or banking details. There will be other ways of donating if it's a reputable charity.

Ask about these options and make sure you check the validity of any website or social media page you're directed to.

To find out about the latest charity scams see the ACCC's SCAMwatch charity scams webpage.

Check if it's tax deductible

A donation is only tax deductible if it is given to a charity that has been endorsed by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) as a deductible gift recipient (DGR) organisation.

To receive a deduction the donation must be two dollars or more and must be claimed in your tax return for the income year in which the donation was made. In some circumstances, you can elect to spread the tax deduction over five income years. For more information visit the ATO's gifts and donations webpage.

You can check if an organisation is a DGR by visiting the Australian Business Register or phoning the ATO on 13 28 61.

Complain if you have a problem

You can complain about a charity to the relevant state or territory regulator. To find the regulator in your state visit the ATO: State and territory government requirements - fundraising. You can also complain to the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission if the charity is registered, see the ACNC: Raise a concern about a charity webpage.

Australian charities working in the area of overseas aid, who get funding from AusAID, are required to be members of the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID), and must adhere to the ACFID Code of Conduct. For more information about the code, including its signatories and how to register a complaint, see the ACFID: Code of Conduct webpage.

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