Give me Shelter: How to Donate Safely

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By Susan Fogel

What a strange title for an article! In reality, not so strange. There are so many aspects of life in La Paz where money can make a difference. And there are so many people asking for donations and claiming to be responsible organizations. And the expat community is generous to those in need in their adopted country.

As we head into the holidays, every organization in town from the police, firemen, Red Cross, and many others will be asking for donations.

But how can you know when you pass along your pesos, that the child, senior, dog, or environmental group is going to get the money? How will you know that if the group in question does in the end receive your money that they will apply it to the area of their need that you specified?

Well, there are two words that govern ethical charities: disclosure and transparency.

Disclosure, on the simplest level, can be a receipt with the telephone number, RFC number (tax ID), and address of the organization. Disclosure means that when a donor asks, the recipient will tell them how their donation will be spent. Disclosure also means that if requested, the charity will open its books to the donor.

Disclosure does not mean showing donor lists and amounts. But just as in any business it will show cash in, certain line items including staff salaries, and other expenditures.

Transparency means NO SECRETS. If you choose a dog shelter, for example, and you earmark your donation to spay and neuter only, or to house a difficult-to-adopt dog, then the shelter must show you, if requested, the vet and food receipts for those services, as applied to those issues.

There are often urgent calls to help the poorest of the poor. One cold winter a call went out for blankets or mattresses for kids living in the worst conditions. The foreign community responded generously, risking the suspension of their cars and trucks to deliver the most basic of items, a bed to sleep on and a blanket to sleep under.

This was not a formal charity. This was an urgent response to a desperate need. This group posted pictures online of the families receiving the goods. No one thought about asking for a receipt. No one doubted that these goods would make it to the barrios. But there was transparency; the photos told the story.

But when you hand over your pesos, if the recipient charity will not give you a receipt, do not let the money leave your hot little hand. If the charity will not give you a receipt, don’t give them your money!

Make sure that you know who is really asking for the money. At certain times of the year the Red Cross will have armies of school kids stationed on street corners and standing on topes (speed bumps) with their white buckets emblazoned with the familiar red logo. The containers are locked. The logo is recognizable. The kids will slap a Red Cross sticker on your windshield. This is safe giving. If you want a receipt, ask for one, and they will tell you how to get one. There are also people dressed in white standing on topes and looking like nurses in white with red trim, they are NOT the Red Cross. They do not have locked containers.

Be generous this season and all year. But be aware of to whom you are donating, and make sure that your money will be used for the charitable work.

Susan Fogel is an observer of life and writes to tell you what she sees. Visit her blog





These are three examples of registered non-profits in La Paz and the U.S.


International Community Foundation

qualifies recipient charities

offers 501(c) (3) status to vetted groups


Fundacion Ayuda Ninos de La Paz (FANLAP)

offers hot breakfast and scholarships


BajaDogs Inc.

offers funds and a donation platform to dog rescue groups that have been properly qualified.


For information on more charities of all kinds working in La Paz visit

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