Make us your home page

Be cautious of charities that inundate you with gifts during the holidays

Some charities send people gifts during the holidays, which should make you cautious. CHERIE DIEZ   |   Times

Some charities send people gifts during the holidays, which should make you cautious. CHERIE DIEZ | Times

'Tis the season for giving — by charities, that is.

If you're like many Americans, you've been inundated with "gifts'' from charities trying to encourage — or shame — you into donating. In the past few weeks, for example, this reporter has received:

One personalized day planner.

Two dream catchers.

Three ballpoint pens.

Eight sheets of wrapping paper.

Nine calendars.

13 note pads.

16 sheets of address labels.

85 gift tags.

And a partridge in a pear tree, on one of 54 greeting cards complete with envelopes.

"Charities believe that they will get a better response by sending out little gifts or trinkets but people ought to be careful,'' said Daniel Borochoff, president of Charity Watch. ''Lots of times the groups that do this don't perform as well as those that don't.''

As a rule of thumb, charities should invest at least 75 percent of the money they receive on programs and services for the causes they espouse. Many, though, fall far short of that goal.

Borochoff once argued with a group that claimed the trinkets it sent were a "program expense'' directly benefitting Native Americans. After admitting the items were "from, like, China'' and not made by Native Americans, Borochoff recalls, the group then argued that the mailings were a legitimate program cost "because they increased activity at the post office near where the Indians live.''

"I was asking them: Are you training people to make these? Are you lending them tools or supplies?'' Borochoff recalled. "No, no, no, they weren't doing any of that. That's why it's important to think about in what way this (donation) might be helping somebody.''

Read More: America's Worst Charities, a Tampa Bay Times special report

Just because a charity sends a gift, there's no obligation to donate and no need to feel guilty if you use the item — "it's being done to manipulate you,'' Borochoff said. He finds it a bit curious, though, that so many charities send out personalized address labels at a time when far fewer people write letters or pay their bills by mail.

"I get so many (labels) you could never, ever use them all,'' he said. "My father had stacks of them.''

Out of pangs of conscience, trinket recipients often donate a few dollars although that can encourage charities to keep on soliciting. And in the wake of an especially contentious U.S. presidential election, the appeals for donations could come from a growing array of organizations.

"With the changes in government,'' Borochoff said, "environmental groups and family planning groups and civil rights group feel threatened by the new administration. I cringe at the term but those are sometimes called 'rage donations.' I don't want people giving out of rage — you've got to think it through.''

Contact Susan Taylor Martin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate

Tips for smart charitable giving

•Narrow your giving to the causes or organizations most important to you — a $50 donation to one charity can have a bigger impact than $5 to 10 different ones.

•Make sure the charity spends most of its money on programs and services, not on fundraising. Charity Watch ( and Charity Navigator ( both rate thousands of charitable organizations. The Florida Department of Agriculture's Check-A-Charity also has information on charities registered with the state. Visit it here here.

•If you don't want to be deluged with appeals, check to see if the charity has a "donor privacy'' policy under which it agrees not to sell or trade your personal or contact information.

Be cautious of charities that inundate you with gifts during the holidays 12/12/16 [Last modified: Monday, December 12, 2016 10:23am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Carrollwood fitness center employs scientific protocol to help clients


    In 2005, Al Roach and Virginia Phillips, husband and wife, opened 20 Minutes to Fitness in Lakewood Ranch, and last month they opened the doors to their new location in Carrollwood.

    Preston Fisher, a personal fitness coach at 20 Minutes To Fitness, stands with an iPad while general manager/owner Angela Begin conducts an equipment demonstration. The iPad is used to track each client's information and progress. I also included one shot of just the equipment. The center recently opened in Carrollwood. Photo by Danielle Hauser.
  2. Olive Tree branches out to Wesley Chapel


    WESLEY CHAPEL — When it came time to open a second location of The Olive Tree, owners John and Donna Woelfel, decided that Wesley Chapel was the perfect place.

    The Olive Tree expands its offerings of "ultra premium?€ extra virgin olive oils (EVOO) to a second location in Wesley Chapel. Photo by Danielle Hauser.
  3. Massachusetts firm buys Tampa's Element apartment tower

    Real Estate

    TAMPA — Downtown Tampa's Element apartment tower sold this week to a Massachusetts-based real estate investment company that plans to upgrade the skyscraper's amenities and operate it long-term as a rental community.

    The Element apartment high-rise at 808 N Franklin St. in downtown Tampa has been sold to a Northland Investment Corp., a Massachusetts-based real estate investment company. JIM DAMASKE  |  Times
  4. New York town approves Legoland proposal


    GOSHEN, N.Y. — New York is one step closer to a Lego dreamland. Goshen, a small town about fifty miles northwest of the Big Apple, has approved the site plan for a $500 million Legoland amusement park.

    A small New York town, Goshen approved the site plan for a $500 million Legoland amusement park. Legoland Florida is in Winter Haven. [Times file  photo]
  5. Jordan Park to get $20 million makeover and new senior housing

    Real Estate


    Times Staff Writer

    ST. PETERSBURG —The St. Petersburg Housing Authority, which bought back the troubled Jordan Park public housing complex this year, plans to spend about $20 million to improve the 237-unit property and construct a new three-story building for …

    Jordan Park, the historic public housing complex, is back in the hands of the St. Petersburg Housing Authority. The agency is working to improve the 237-unit complex. But the latest plan to build a new three-story building for seniors will mean 31 families have to find new homes. [LARA CERRI   |   Tampa Bay Times]