Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson


OLYMPIA -- Many Washingtonians step up to help others in need, especially during the holiday season. To make the most of that generous spirit, Secretary of State Sam Reed and Attorney General Rob McKenna unveiled the 2011 Commercial Fundraiser Activity Report Thursday as a tool to help people give wisely and avoid greedy fundraising organizations when making donations.

Reed and McKenna met at the Greenwood Senior Center in Seattle today where they released the new report and shared tips on how to be wise donors. 

Overall this year, charities that used commercial fundraisers in Washington received 56 percent of the total donations raised by those fundraisers, much lower than the 77 percent mark in 2010 report. But the percentage individual fundraisers retained was all over the board: Some fundraisers kept less than 10 percent and sent the remaining chunk to charity, while other fundraisers raised less money for a charity than what they charged it.

“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 individuals who are able to contribute are well-informed about where their money is going. We want donors 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.    

“Commercial fundraisers make money by raising money,” McKenna said.  “The best way to maximize your contributions is to contact charitable organizations in your community and ask how they spend donations.  Don’t be afraid to ask how much of your donation will go to the charitable purpose.”

The report, which was compiled by the Office of Secretary of State’s Charities Division, 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.

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.

“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. “While most of these commercial fundraisers help keep many crucial charities afloat in Washington, some wind up using the bulk of donations to pay for administrative costs and expenses – or to make a hefty profit.”

Read the Report:
Full 2011 Commercial Fundraiser Activity Report
Overview of the 2011 Commercial Fundraiser Activity Report 

The information in the report is from the commercial fundraiser’s registration on file with the Secretary of State. It is not confirmed or verified by the Charities Division.

There are currently 9,684 charities registered in Washington State. Of those, 685 report using commercial fundraising services.

Because of an amendment to the Charitable Solicitations Act, as of Dec. 1, 2010, all-volunteer organizations raising less than $50,000 from the public that do not utilize commercial fundraisers are not required to register with the Charities Program. All-volunteer charities that raise between $25,000 and $50,000 are not required to register.

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 for 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.

The 2011 Charities Fundraiser Activity Report at a glance:

  • A total of $773,204,935 in contributions was raised in Washington and elsewhere by the 117 commercial fundraisers included in the report. This amount is just over half of the $1,432,453,344 collected in 2010, but it’s the fourth-highest total since the report began in 1995. 2008 saw the highest amount in contributions raised, $1,828,442,302. 
  • The average percentage of contributions returned to charity clients was 56 percent overall. While far lower than last year’s percentage, it is slightly higher than the average annual historic rates of return over the last decade.
  • About 40 percent (46) of the commercial fundraisers returned less than 20 percent to charity.
  • Only 10 of the commercial fundraisers (8.5 percent) returned more than 80 percent to charity.
  • The fundraiser with the highest percentage rate returned 99 percent to charity.
  • The fundraiser with the lowest percentage rate was at minus 1,730 percent, meaning the charity lost money on the partnership.   



Brian Zylstra

Deputy Communications Director, Office of Secretary of State

(360) 902-4173 or brian.zylstra@sos.wa.gov


Janelle Guthrie, Director of Communications, (360) 586-0725