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Several years ago, I gave a small donation of $20 to a charity. Every few months, I've received mailings from them with news about the work they are doing and an encouragement to give more. I've never given them more and I'm pretty sure that the total cost of the mailings including postage has now exceeded the $20 I donated.

While I still think this particular charity is doing good work and I realize that mailings are a necessary evil for many charities, I'd rather that my donations not go towards mailings back to me. I realize that it's probably too late to do anything about this particular charity, but I'd like to know for future reference: is there a way to give to a charity anonymously?

To be clear, these are charities where donations are typically handled by check or credit card, not by donation boxes. At this point in my life, my donations are relatively small: $20 to $100 on an irregular basis, probably totaling $1000 a year. I realize I probably don't give anywhere near enough in all to worry about tax deductions. All I'm interested in is not having the charities spend my donation on more mailings to me, or really have any more contact unless I choose to give again, so I'd like to give anonymously.

  • If you itemize your deductions your charitable giving is deductible, there is no minimum threshold. – homer150mw Sep 8 '16 at 13:30
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    Have you tried actually asking the charity in question to stop sending you mail? – DJClayworth Sep 8 '16 at 16:33
  • You would think buying a Credit/Debit card from national store would be a simple way to give anonymously online. Those cards very visible when standing in checkout lines. My experience has been that it doesn't work. My guess is that the account number on the card has some encoding information where it fails at the final stage of online checkouts. If you can't associate a valid name, zip code, email address or some such combination, the card is refused. Having a true anonymous email is not hard to get around and other legit details (but not mine) also too often fails. – Jay Smothers Jul 18 at 20:04
  • Oh, I feel for the OP! As for asking the charity to stop sending mail, that works for some, and does not work for many. I have pleaded with several charities to stop sending me mail and stop sending me stuff, and the pleas go into a black hole. Nor does ten years of giving them nothing have an effect. I still get the mail, and I still get the cr_p. I suggest you move, leave no forwarding address and change your name. – ab2 ReinstateMonicaNow Jul 18 at 20:33
  • Not all charities are going to accept a donation where they don't know who it came from. Some are restricted in who they can accept donations from, and for the rest it's just darn suspicious. – DJClayworth Jul 19 at 20:52
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The simplest way to handle this would be to buy money orders, make them out to the charities, and leave your name off them. Money orders don't require you to put your name on them, just the name of whoever they're being paid to. You can mail them with no return address as well if you're sure you have the charity's proper mailing address. This way you can still feel good about giving and leave no trace of who you are for anyone to use for future marketing.

I hope this helps.

Good luck!

  • I'm not familiar with how money orders work. Is it like a check where only the person it is written out to can cash it in? I know one of the downsides of mailing cash is that anybody can take it if they open your envelope. Is that a risk here too? – Thunderforge Sep 8 '16 at 19:49
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    Yes, a money order works just like a check. You make it payable to the recipient, who is then the only one who can endorse and cash it. You have a stub as your receipt, so if anything is lost, it can be traced by the serial number. It is very safe and an easy alternative to your dilemma. – Daniel Anderson Sep 8 '16 at 21:13
  • Be aware, though, that getting a money order at a bank is often quite expensive. The post office is cheaper, but nerdwallet says walmart is even cheaper. – Acccumulation May 8 '18 at 22:07
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You could always put cash in an envelope and mail it, with no return address on the envelope.

Any form of anonymous donation that I can think of has the risk that if the money is intercepted and stolen, you'll never know. Also, you won't get a receipt that you can use for tax purposes.

You could try sending this organization a note saying, "I think you're doing great work, but this donation was a one-time gift. Please take me off your mailing list." I don't know if it would work, but it's worth a try.

By the way, the problem is worse than you think: charities share mailing lists. Once one charity has your name, they'll often share it with other related charities. For example, I give to the Catholic Family Association even though I am a Protestant -- I think they're doing good work that Catholics, Protestants, and people of many other faiths could support. But over the years I started getting fundraising letters from other Catholic charities, and then from groups trying to spread Catholicism, and now I'm getting mailings from groups whose stated purpose is to oppose Protestants. I laugh and throw away the letters, but I know some people get really bothered by this sort of thing.

"I'm pretty sure that the total cost of the mailings including postage has now exceeded the $20 I donated." I've occassionally thought of sending some trivial donation, $5 or $10, to some political or activist group that I totally oppose, just so they'll spend way more than that over the course of the next few years asking me for more money. :-) Plus, they'll send me letters that will tell me what the opposition is up to.

  • Anecdatum: over about the last decade most of the orgs I give to have started offering a (nondefault) checkbox for 'don't share mail', but none offer 'don't send our own mail' and when I've tried attaching a Post-it (for the worst offenders) it hasn't had any visible effect. OTOH when I give online and they start sending loads of timewasting email, the 'stop email' or at least 'reduce email' usually does work. – dave_thompson_085 Sep 11 '16 at 3:19
  • Sending cash in the mail is generally a really bad idea, as it is much more likely to be pilfered. – Anthony McCloskey Sep 13 '16 at 15:00
  • @AnthonyMcCloskey That was my point about "if it's intercepted". Presumably you wouldn't even know the money had been stolen. I wasn't recommending this, just trying to get all options in. A money order might make it a little harder for someone to steal, but if they forged a signature and managed to cash it, you'd still never know. – Jay Sep 13 '16 at 15:44
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I know your pain oh, so much. I literally have a 14 gallon rubbermaid container FULL of solicitations I have received.

Even worse, for-profit fundraising companies send most of those mailings! They take the money, and deduct their "expenses", rigged to consume almosts all your gift. Some companies have been caught passing as little as 9% to the charity.

First let's talk about a few issues.

Authentication. Is that outfit really a tax deductible 501c3 charity?

Address. Is this their genuine address, or is it the dropbox of a scammer or one of those evil for-profit fundraising companies?

Acknowledgement. For gifts over a certain size, you need a thank-you letter from them to show the IRS that you really donated. Will you get it? The limit is $250 (no letter, deduction rejected) but as a practical thing, it helps in an audit to show as many donation letters as possible. Charities cannot issue them retroactively, but can issue you second copies of ones they sent previously. If the charity drops the ball, you lose.

Plain old money orders

Obviously enough, you go to the post office and spend $1 on a money order.

This does not authenticate them as a charity. It does not assure it goes to their real address. You can do both these things yourself, by checking their data on the IRS website or on guidestar.org.

You don't get an acknowledgement.

Donor Advised Fund

I mention these because donation websites work much the same way. DAFs require a higher one-time commitment but are much simpler and more efficient after that.

If you are planning to give $5000 in a single year, save it up and open a Donor Advised Fund account. A DAF is itself a charity. You donate to the DAF, and take the tax deduction for charitable contributons. Then, you tell the DAF to donate it to other charities on your behalf, or anonymously.

Their concept is, you use the DAF as a "buffer" so you can easily make the tax-deductible donation when you need to for tax purposes, then at your leisure research charities and support them.

However, I asked my DAF - most people donate and then immediately re-donate the money, leaving the fund at zero balance. My DAF doesn't mind that at all, and they charge zero fees for this.

(Its expenses are paid by those of us who leave money sitting around in the DAF. Mine charges 0.6% a year. This money can be invested sort of like in a 401K, and each investment also has an expense ratio, such as 0.18% a year in my chosen index fund.)

  • The DAF lets you choose to gift anonymously, so the charity sees the DAF's address instead of yours.
  • the DAF staff authenticates that the charity is genuine.
  • They only send the check to the charity's official address in Guidestar or IRS data.
  • The acknowledgement letter comes from the DAF itself. Since you have an account, the system will give you electronic copies of your acknowledgement letters anytime you want.

Donation websites (mini-DAF)

Websites like "justgive.org" will take any amount of your money and re-donate it to the charity you select. They deduct 3-5% for their expenses (notably paper, stamps, and the 2-3% it costs them to process your credit card).

  • Anonymity, authentication and address work the same as a DAF.
  • Acknowlegement letters work the same as a DAF. However they don't require you to "set up an account", and if you don't, they won't archive your acknowledgement letters for you.
  • RE "quite small" Maybe Mr Harper is richer than me. :-) The IRS requires you to have a receipt or statement from the organization for any gift over $250. That's not total for the year, but any one gift, so if you give your favorite charity $200 per month, you don't need a receipt, even though the total for the year is well over $250. I don't think of $250 as "quite small". Almost all my charitable gifts are under $250. – Jay Sep 12 '16 at 15:20
  • @jay I'm also looking at it from the charity's shoes. Due to other rules, our threshold for issuing the letters is at $75, though in actual practice we acknowledge gifts of any size. Someone who gives us $200/mo., Absolutely Must be given an acknowledgement letter at end of year, and may even rate a mention in our 990! At audit time it's between the donor and the IRS, and it's all about believability. Letters help. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Sep 12 '16 at 16:04
  • There's a $75 threshold if you give something in exchange for the donation. If anyone who gives over, say, $100 gets a tote bag or a year's subscription to your magazine or whatever, the deductible amount is supposed to be the amount they gave minus the value of the "gift". In that case, you have to give them a statement if they give over $75. Besides that, lots or charities give statements for any amount or for thresholds well under $250, but IRS regulations do not require it. – Jay Sep 12 '16 at 16:08
  • Ok, I see your point. And ah yes, the PBS tote bag. Actually charity-branded swag and non-commercial magazines are considered "insubstantial" and don't count monetarily against the gift, but the rules are byzantine and again I don't want my donors having to split those hairs with IRS at audit time. This for sure, the charity is foolish not to issue a letter for a $74 gift, and the donor is foolish not to present it at audit. Most charities do, so the total absence of any such letter is a yellowflag at audit. So I still argue the IRS $250 rule is irrelevant in practice. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Sep 12 '16 at 16:30
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    @ab2 they can't issue them retroactively. What they can do is issue "another" copy of the acknowledgment that I'm sure they previously sent in a timely manner. ;-) .... They are polite and don't suggest you lost it, and you are polite and don't suggest they failed to send it. IRS goes "whatever". – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jul 18 at 22:44
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The easiest solution is to avoid giving your real address/phone number/email to the charity. Create a separate email account such as Thunderforge.charities@gmail.com for any donations that you make and use a fake address/phone number if they ask for one. That way you can still be sure your donation has reached its recepient, but at the same time you give them no real options for contacting you in the future.

As for charitable deductions, the current standard deductible is $24k in the US, so you might as well skip mentioning it on your declaration if you're only contributing a few thousand dollars per year and don't have a lot of itemized deductions.

The same tactics works for any other organization - always give out fake contact details if you don't benefit from the company in question having them on their file.

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