OLYMPIA — Secretary of State Sam Reed and Attorney General Rob McKenna recently urged Washingtonians to make wise choices with their holidays gifts to charity and avoid greedy fundraising groups.
Reed and McKenna joined forces at the Senior Services Lillian Rice Center in downtown Seattle, releasing the 2012 Commercial Fundraiser Activity Report and announcing that the report will be updated weekly “in real time” to keep donors well-informed.
The two statewide officials also shared tips for everyone – young and old – on how to give wisely.
Overall this year, charities that used commercial fundraisers received an average of 46 percent of contributions, a drop from the 56 percent mark in the 2011 report and much lower than the 77 percent reported in 2010. Once again, the percentage that individual fundraisers retained was wide-ranging: Some fundraisers kept less than 10 percent and sent the remaining funds to charity, while other fundraisers’ fees and expenses were more than the amount raised.
The report, compiled by the Office of Secretary of State’s Charities Program, spotlights recent financial information for commercial fundraisers who solicit or collect donations on behalf of their charity clients.
The causes vary widely and include police, firefighter and veteran organizations, medical research, animals, civil liberties, and the environment, to name a few.
Seniors 65 and older – a group that makes up about 13 percent of Washington’s population – are especially targeted by solicitors and thus should be very careful and research where their donations are going, the two state officials cautioned.
“I’ve been so impressed with the generosity of Washington residents over the years,” Reed said. “So many people here give money to help those who are struggling in our state or elsewhere. We know that individuals will want to donate money this holiday season and beyond to help others, but we also know that they can get burned by not doing their homework before giving to a charity.
“That’s why we want to make sure donors are well-informed about where their money is going. We want contributors – regardless of age – to know which commercial fundraising groups have a bad track record when it comes to passing on donated money to the intended charities,” Reed added.
“Those in the commercial fundraising business earn money by raising money,”
McKenna said. “People should always contact charitable organizations in your community and ask how they spend donations to ensure you are truly helping those you wish to help. Never be afraid to ask how much of your donation will go to the charitable purpose. It’s your money.”
The report, which has existed since 1995, has been revamped so it now is updated on a weekly basis. Consumers will be able to run their own reports in real time and get current registration information on commercial fundraisers, the state officials announced.
“The public really will benefit from having access to fundraiser information that is up to date,” Reed said. “It will allow people to make even better decisions on where to give their hard-earned money.”
Commercial fundraisers use many methods to solicit the public, including the telephone and sending mailers asking them to give money to a cause. Commercial fundraisers, who are compensated for their efforts, take a cut of the donations before sending money to the charitable organization or charge a fee for their services.
“People should remember that when someone asks you for a donation, there’s a chance it’s a third party getting paid to make that solicitation,” Reed said. “While most of these commercial fundraisers help keep many crucial charities afloat in Washington, some use a large portion of donations to pay for administrative costs and expenses – or to make a hefty profit.”
Each month hundreds of people use Reed’s online charities search at http://www.sos.wa.gov/charities/search.aspx to get instant financial histories and other information on fundraisers and charities. Consumers can also call toll-free 1-800-332-4483.
Those who believe they are victims of charity fraud should contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Resource Center between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. weekdays at 1-800-551-4636 or file a complaint online at www.atg.wa.gov