Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson


For tips on how to "give smart" read this handout.  (PDF)


A fundraiser is a person or organization that contracts with a charity to raise money. Fundraisers often take a large percentage of contributions. Many fundraisers are actually for-profit companies. Fundraisers, like charities, must be registered with the Secretary of State.  More information about how much of your donation a fundraiser will keep can be found in the Secretary of State’s annual commercial fundraiser activity report.

The Secretary of State maintains a registry of charitable organizations, fundraisers and charitable trusts. It is unlawful for most organizations to solicit contributions without being registered. The registry provides valuable information, such as: total dollar value of support received by the organization; total dollar amount applied to charitable purposes, fundraising costs and other expenses; and the total revenue of the preceding fiscal year.

  In This Section
  What the Law Says
Protect Your Contributions

Questions and Complaints

You may contact the Secretary of State with questions concerning charitable organizations at (800) 332-4483 or charities@sos.wa.gov. However, the Secretary of State cannot endorse any charitable organizations. Registration is not a guarantee against deception.

You may file a complaint against a charity or fundraiser with the Attorney General’s Office Consumer Resource Center by mail or online.


What the Law Says

Under the Charitable Solicitations Act, RCW 19.09, an individual soliciting a contribution must:

  • Clearly state her or his name;
  • Clearly state the name of the charitable organization and its principal place of business;
  • Clearly state the name of the commercial fundraiser, if any, that employs the solicitor; and
  • Disclose the true nature of the organization's relationship to the government, if it is associated with or has a name similar to a government organization; and,
  • Upon request, state the published number of the Secretary of State (800) 332-4483.

An individual soliciting a contribution must not:

  • Make a false, deceptive or misleading representation;
  • State or imply that the contribution is tax deductible unless the charity has filed with the Secretary of State its letter from the Internal Revenue Service granting tax deductible status;
  • Use the name "police, "sheriff", "fire fighter" or similar name unless authorized;
  • Harass, intimidate or torment; or,
  • Call before 8:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m.

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Protect Your Contributions

Many of us are contacted regularly by people raising money for charities. They stop us on the street, call us on the phone, send us things in the mail, and come to our doors. Unfortunately, not all fundraisers are reputable. Some may misrepresent themselves, their cause, or how much of your donation will actually be used for charity. Some may use "hardball" tactics.  A few may simply be out to scam you. To protect yourself and to make sure the money you choose to donate goes to a reputable cause, follow these helpful guidelines.

When contacted by somebody asking for contributions, listen carefully to what they tell you. Make sure you learn the name of the person to whom you are speaking, as well as the name and address of the organization; whether the organization is raising money for itself or if it is a fundraiser hired to solicit contributions; and whether the donation is tax deductible.

Before agreeing to donate any money, make sure you ask where the money goes. Find out if the person to whom you are speaking takes a percentage, and if they do, how large a percentage. Ask what programs the organization has supported recently and where they are located. Legitimate charities should welcome your questions. They want people to know what they are doing for the community.

Take time to find out about the charity. You don't have to donate right away, and pressure to do so should make you suspicious.  Take time to check if a charity or fundraiser is registered.  Call the beneficiaries of the charitable funds: local schools, shelters, workshops, etc.

When you have decided to donate, write a check and make the check payable to the charity, not the fundraiser.  Do no give your credit card number to a fundraiser who calls you over the phone. Save a record of your payment — it will be essential if you ever have to file a complaint, and will come in handy when you file your income tax return.

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The old adage, "if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is," applies to dealing with charities as well. Here are some warnings:

  • Don't be fooled by a name. Some phone charities, including for-profit companies, have sympathetic sounding names, or names that closely resemble those of respected, legitimate charities.
  • Don't fall for a "sob story." The hard luck tale is a favorite ploy of the phony operator. A legitimate charity will tell you how it is using your money to make a difference for the better.
  • Don't give in to pressure. Tell the solicitor you want to take time to make your decision.
  • Never give your credit card number to a fundraiser over the phone.
  • If the fundraiser comes to your door, always ask for identification. Alternatively, you can mail your check directly to the charity.
  • If you receive unordered items in the mail, don't feel obligated to make a donation. It's against the law to demand payment for unordered merchandise.
  • Be wary of charities that offer to send a courier over immediately to collect your money.
  • Be wary of sweepstakes and contests posing as charities. You do not have to donate for a chance to win.

Get Involved!

There really is no better way to be certain that the charitable organization asking for your support is deserving than to become involved. Speak to the organizers. Participate in events. Volunteer. Contribute directly to these charities and you can be sure your money will be doing the most good.


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