December 13, 2010

Los Angeles:  ‘Tis the season when charities approach Angelenos with donation appeals. While selecting one charity over another is always difficult, the lagging economy means the selection is more difficult than ever. There are more charities and less money to donate to them.

The Charitable Services Section of the Los Angeles Police Commission advises Angelenos to do their homework– Give, but Give Wisely. In Los Angeles, certain tools can make it easier to research charities.

Research should include identifying the nonprofits’ services and the proportion of donations they apply to administrative costs. Avoid becoming a victim of charitable fraud and take the following steps:

Ask to see the charity’s Police Commission Information Card.This card is issued by the Los Angeles Police Commission to charities that are soliciting funding within the City of Los Angeles.  It is issued, as per the Los Angeles Municipal Code, to IRS designated 501(c) 3 nonprofits and others who solicit on behalf of those nonprofits.  Under the tax code, the donations are tax-deductable. The Police Commission Information Card contains such information as the charity’s contact names, valid dates for solicitation, and the revenue and expenses the charity reported for a similar past event.  Mailed solicitations must include a copy of the Police Commission Information Card.

Evaluate the charity. Answer the following questions before donating:

•    Are the charity’s expenses uncomfortably high? How much revenue  goes toward the cause itself? The Information Card contains the results of similar past events. Also, ask the charity for a financial statement or check its Federal Form 990.

•    Is the charity legitimate? Check with the Charitable Services Section and on the Internet for the organization’s Web site and the State of California Attorney General’s office (see below for Web Site).

•    Is the solicitor legitimate? Does the solicitor possess a valid Police Commission Information Card? Contact the charity to verify the solicitor. Beware of sound-a-likes – check with the agency they claim to represent. Alert your local police station if they are soliciting illegally.

•    Will the charity take noncash payments? It is highly recommended that you donate with a check or credit card. However, it is best not to give any personal information over the telephone.

Contact the Police Commission Charitable Services Section. The Police Commission Charitable Services Section is here to assist with your questions this holiday season and throughout the year.  The section may be reached at 213 996-1260.

For further information about Giving Wisely or the Los Angeles Municipal Code ordinance governing charities, visit the Charitable Services Section Web site at Search for “charitable” and click on “charitable services section.”

Use other online resources. For instance, the California State Attorney General’s Web site at has additional information regarding your charity.