1) Does the email ask have typos and grammatical errors? If you receive an email asking for a donation with typos and grammatical errors, that's a red flag. Nonprofit professionals work painstakingly hard to make these emails look professional. Minor mistakes happen, we are all human. When in doubt, pick up the phone and call the organization and ask them "Did you send out an email to me requesting a donation?"
2) Does the mailer have the address of the organization on the return envelope? I used to work for a national non-profit organization and from time-to-time, I would be made aware of donation envelopes asking for donations, but the address on the donation return envelope was not to any of our offices. Make sure that if you have a donation envelope, that the address on the envelope you are to return has the address of one of the offices of the organization you are sending a donation. Keep in mind that larger non-profits will sometimes use central processing centers for donations. If you are unsure, call the phone number on the non-profit's website. They would be happy to verify that for you.
3) Phone calls. The Children's Museum in Oak Lawn will never call you to ask for a donation over the phone. Some organizations still practice this, but I've noticed over the years that I am receiving fewer and fewer of these phone calls. I think the only ones I receive at this point are from the University where I graduated and one of those Illinois police organizations (you know, the ones the local police departments tell you not to donate to?) If you do get a phone call, the best way to protect yourself is to say "Yes, I'll give but I'm going to go directly to your website to do so" or "I will mail a check to the office address listed on your website." Legitimate non-profit organizations will say "Thank you" and not pressure you to make that donation on the phone.
4) Does the email have a link that looks suspicious? Sometimes this isn't as obvious, but a keen eye can spot subtleties in links within an email that don't look quite right. A big red flag is if the organization's name isn't even in the link, but even if it is in the link, don't have a false sense of security. Let's say that the nonprofit's website is www.cmoaklawn.org. The email you receive says to donate at www.cmoaklawnabc.org/donate. You might think this is legit, but it would be a scam. The abc would be the clue that something is amiss. Again, a quick call to the non-profit would clear that up.
It's disappointing that we live in a world where these types of things can happen, where people, non-profit organizations and businesses can be defrauded. It's up to us, as supporters, to remain vigilant in protecting ourselves and the non-profits we care about. If you do get something suspicious that appears to be phishing, fraudulent, or a scam, contact the non-profit and let them know. They can work with local law enforcement to alert the public that a scam is in motion.
If you ever have a question about donating to the Children's Museum in Oak Lawn, please call me at (708) 423-6709 ext 201. I would be happy to speak with you.
Adam Woodworth is the Executive Director of the Children's Museum in Oak Lawn. To make a donation, visit our website at www.cmoaklawn.org and go to the "Help Us Grow" page.