Give wisely this holiday season

Dec 3, 2010

It's that time of year when many of us give generously to charitable organizations.  But how do we know where the money is really going?  In some cases, more money goes into the pockets of professional fundraisers than to the charity itself.  

You can find out how your dollars are being spent at the Washington Secretary of State's office.  Just type in the organization's name, click the search button and you can see what percentage of dollars goes to charitable services...and how much goes to pay for fundraising.

Secretary of State Sam Reed and Attorney General Rob McKenna unveiled the 2010 Commercial Fundraiser Report today at the AARP Fraud Fighter Call Center in Seattle.  Among the report's findings:

  • A total of $1,432,453,344 in contributions was raised in Washington and elsewhere by the 107 paid fundraisers included in the report.
  • The average percentage of contributions returned to charity clients was 77 percent overall. Compared to average historic rates of return over the last decade, this is up significantly.
  • About one-fourth of the paid fundraisers returned less than 20 percent to charity.
  • Nearly 8 percent of the paid fundraisers returned more than 80 percent to charity.
  • The best: The fundraiser with the highest percentage rate returned 98 percent to charity.
  • The worst: The fundraiser with the lowest percentage rate came in at minus 122 percent, meaning the charity lost money on the partnership. 

Of the 9,757 charities registered with the state, 653 reported using paid fundraising services.  AARP State Director Doug Shadel says people over the age of 65 are often targeted by telephone solicitors:

"According to AARP research, older adults receive more telephone and mail solicitations for charitable donations than any other age group.  But before we open up our hearts and our wallets, it's important to make sure we are giving wisely."  

If you believe you've been a victim of  charity fraud, 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.

You can get a free "Check Before You Give" packet from the AARP Fraud Fighter Call Center by calling toll-free:  1-800-646-2283.