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Avoiding Charity Scams: Laurie Styron Interview

   Mar 12, 2022

CharityWatch Executive Director, Laurie Styron, discusses common charity scams, how to avoid them, and why donors can’t rely only on government oversight to protect them from being taken advantage of by bad charities. 

How to Donate Wisely and Avoid Charity Scams with Laurie Styron

“It is best to cut out the middleman when possible. When someone is raising money to donate to a charity, there is no point for that middle person. Donate directly.” - Laurie StyronCLICK TO TW

Some organizations may use misleading language or pressure you as they solicit for a donation and this can cause distrust. Research is needed to make sure your money is going to the charity of choice and not a predator preying on your emotions.

Today’s guest is Laurie Styron. Laurie was appointed the Executive Director of CharityWatch, American Institute of Philanthropy in 2020. She served as CharityWatch’s Senior Analyst for 16 years and thereafter as a Program Consultant through her nonprofit accounting and consulting practice. Laurie has been quoted in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, NBC Nightly News, and by many other media outlets. She has also vetted charities for Good Morning America and has worked with 60 Minutes and many other news organizations on charity related investigations.

“Make that little bit of research you do before you donate part of your giving.” - Laurie StyronCLICK TO TWEET

Show Notes:

  • [1:53] – Laurie shares how she started with CharityWatch and why she was drawn to working in a nonprofit.
  • [3:31] – The founder of CharityWatch realized people were not making fact based decisions around donating to charities.
  • [5:04] – There has been some effort to regulate and enforce how donations are used.
  • [6:14] – Niche and very specific causes are harder to raise money for.
  • [8:14] – The funding for regulators is insufficient for them to adequately oversee.
  • [9:40] – Laurie explains how to vet a charity on CharityWatch and gives an example of how organizations are ranked on the site.
  • [11:50] – Sometimes organizations will use donations as their funds to continue marketing for more donations which causes an ineffective cycle.
  • [14:06] – A lot of donors get really focused on the salaries of charity executives.
  • [15:05] – It is actually a red flag if board officers are not paid enough.
  • [18:17] – There are not enough people in the United States with a masters degree that could work for a low salary.
  • [20:46] – Going into the season of giving, avoid high pressure tactics.
  • [22:12] – A lot of fundraisers have expert scripts that are designed to pressure you. Laurie gives tips on how to say no.
  • [25:01] – Laurie gives advice on how to use your emotions to choose a charity for a cause you are passionate about.
  • [26:33] – Laurie tells the story of a crowdfunding scam that was well intentioned but the money raised was not done by someone who could execute the result.
  • [28:41] – She shares another story of fake campaigns on GoFundMe as copycats.
  • [30:22] – You have the ability to check filings, tax information, and registrations for organizations. Crowdfunding sites do not vet their account holders.
  • [32:36] – Cut out the middleman. Donate directly.
  • [34:02] – It is advised to only donate on crowdfunding sites to those you know.
  • [35:04] – It is not logical for a charity to use 100% of all donations on the cause.
  • [37:24] – Laurie describes how charities are rated on a grade scale on CharityWatch’s website.
  • [38:35] – There are other sites that rate and rank charities but not all are reliable.
  • [40:57] – When you are doing your research, ask yourself what the site’s process is.
  • [43:00] – Sometimes, third party platforms will hold on to the money for longer than necessary and Laurie says to donate directly.
  • [45:47] – If you send small donations across multiple charities, your donations will be much smaller due to fees.
  • [49:42] – Make that little bit of research you do before you donate part of your giving.