John P. McDonough, Secretary of State    

Giving Wisely


When you give, you should know:

  • What the registration requirements for charities are;
  • Who you're giving to;
  • Some questions to ask when solicited by phone
  • Some questions to ask when examining a written solicitation
  • About the charity's finances
  • About deceptive practices
  • What your donor's rights are

Registration Requirements

All charitable organizations that either solicit contributions from Maryland citizens or are located in Maryland are required to be registered with the Office of the Secretary of State if:

  • They collect $25,000 or more in direct public support or
  • Engage the services of a professional solicitor to raise funds for the organization.

In addition, any charity not required to complete a full registration is required to file an exempt organization fund-raising notice. Registration, however, does not imply endorsement.

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Know Who You're Giving To

The Charitable Organizations Division has a master list of approximately 3,900 charities. This office can provide information about the purpose of a charity, the amount of money a charity is raising, the percentage of the money collected which is used for charitable program services, and the percentage which is used for administrative costs and fundraising. Inquire about this information.

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Questions to Ask When Solicited by Phone

Unless you are already familiar with and support an organization, do not promise you will contribute to its cause when you are called on the phone. Instead, ask:

  • Is the charity registered with the Secretary of State?
  • What is the full name, address and phone number of the charity?
  • Do you work for the charity or are you a paid fund-raiser?
  • For what purpose will my contribution be used?
  • Is my contribution tax deductible?
  • What percentage of its total income does the charity spend on its charitable purpose?
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Questions to Ask When Examining a Written Solicitation

  • Is the full name, address and phone number disclosed in the material?
  • For what purpose will my contribution be used?
  • Does the organization offer to send me a copy of its financial statement?
  • Does the solicitation disclose that documents and information are available from the Secretary of State's office for the cost of copies and postage?
  • Is the appeal for contributions written in a way that appeals only to my emotions rather than to my intellect as well?
  • Does the appeal sound plausible?

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Financial Statement

Donors are entitled by law to receive a copy of a financial statement from charities which are registered with the Secretary of State. Written solicitations must include a statement that a financial statement is available upon request and must provide the name, address and telephone number of the charity.

Registered charities are required by law to provide a copy of its financial statement to any person who requests one. This request must be answered within 30 days and no charge can be made for this information.

While a summary of this information may be received by a telephone call to the Office of the Secretary of State, it is the charity's legal responsibility to provide copies of its financial statement to members of the public.

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Deceptive Practices
Some charitable solicitations send messages or red flags which might lead a person to question whether this is an organization worthy of support or even whether it really is a charity:

  • Did the organization refuse to send you written material or financial information?
  • Did the person soliciting offer to send a courier to collect your contribution?
  • Did the charity send you an invoice or statement which indicates a payment due for a contribution you never pledged?
  • Does the organization's name and logo closely resemble another charity with a similar charitable purpose?

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Donors Have Rights

Important: Donors have the right to ask as many questions as necessary to reach a point where an informed decision is possible. Additionally, donors have the right to change their mind after having agreed to make a donation. A pledge to make a contribution is not a legally enforceable agreement.

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