Give wisely to holiday charity groups this season

Charitable giving during the holiday season is a time-honored tradition in South Sound.

And in these difficult economic times, the need for charity, and the desire to give, should be greater than ever.

A number of charities rely on paid fundraisers to solicit donations. Those paid fundraisers vary greatly in how much money they keep for themselves, and how much reaches the charity they represent.

Secretary of State Sam Reed and state Attorney General Rob McKenna recently unveiled a report that helps people make wise charitable giving decisions in the weeks and months ahead.

It’s called the “2010 Commercial Fundraiser Activity Report” and the data included in it is revealing. The 2010 report shows the following:

 • More than $1.4 billion in contributions were raised in Washington state and elsewhere by the 107 paid fundraisers included in the report.

 • On average 77 cents of every $1 contributed is forwarded to the charity clients by the fundraisers. The percent of money returned to the charities is increasing over time.

 • Almost one out of every four hired fundraisers returned less than 20 percent to charity.

 • A much smaller number — 8 percent — was at the other end of the spectrum, returning 80 percent or more to charity.

 • The fundraiser with the highest percentage rate — Green Point Call Center Services of Rye, N.Y. — returned 98 percent of what it recovered for its clients, including the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle. This is in stark contrast to the paid fundraiser with the lowest rate — minus 122 percent, which means the charity, Children International, lost money on the partnership with DialogueDirect, Inc., of New York, N.Y.

True, of the 9,757 charities registered in the state, only 653 of them report using paid fundraising services in 2009.

But the types of causes that rely on hired solicitors vary greatly and include police, firefighters and veteran organizations, medical research, animal rights groups, civil liberties and environmental groups.

The tactics employed by the solicitors range from telephone calls to mailers. The commercial fundraisers typically take a cut of the donated money before they send it on to the charitable organizations, or they charge a fee for their services.

“It’s important for the public to 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.

Many of the commercial fundraisers play a critical role in keeping charitable groups afloat, especially those with very little administrative support.

But others use the bulk of the donations received to pay their own administrative costs and expenses, plus make a hefty profit.

It can’t be stressed enough that both the charity and the consumer need to know who they’re dealing with on the charitable giving front.

According to research by AARP, older adults are beset the most by solicitors. They need to be especially careful and research where their money is going to be successful charitable givers.

There are state and federal regulations that govern solicitors and the state Attorney General’s Office will use its enforcement powers to curb illegal activity, including consumer fraud.

“But donors themselves wield one of the most powerful weapons: education,” McKenna said. “By checking out charities and fundraisers, every one of us can help assure our money is used how we intended.”

Consumers can learn about fundraisers and the financial history of charities by doing an online search at www.sos.wa.gov/charities or by calling toll-free 1-800-332-4483.

Consumers can also order a free “Check Before You Give” packet from the AARP Fraud Fighter Call Center by calling toll-free 1-800-646-2283.

Give, but give wisely, this holiday season.