Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson


OLYMPIA - With the holidays just around the corner, two Washington state officials are suggesting that you check into exactly where your charitable contributions are going before you make a donation.

Related Files:
Commercial Fundraisers Charity Client List (Listed by Lowest Percentage to Charity Clients)

Currently Unregistered Commercial Fundraisers (Listed by Lowest Percentage to Charity Clients)

Commercial Fundraiser ACTIVITY report-
Listed by Overall Percentage of Funds Retained by Charity Clients
Secretary of State Ralph Munro and Attorney General Christine Gregoire today issued figures showing that, in many cases, less than half or even a third of the money you donate through a commercial fundraiser actually gets to the charity being represented. The report is released annually at the beginning of the holiday season, the time of year when charitable solicitations - and donations - are most intense.

The report summarizes the activities of commercial fundraisers — businesses hired by charitable organizations to solicit donations in Washington state. By law, commercial fundraisers must register with the Secretary of State and disclose certain financial information, including how much of the money raised actually went to the client charity.

Commercial fundraisers soliciting in Washington state reported raising more than $225 million in charitable donations during their most recent fiscal year. Of that amount, $131.5 million went for fundraising expenses and profit. The remaining $93.5 million was retained by client charities — an average of 41.5 percent.

More than a third of the 80 fundraisers listed in the report provided their charity clients with 20 percent or less of their contributions they collected. Of those, seven provided their clients with ten percent or less, including one whose charity client received less than three percent of the total funds raised.

"It is important that donors make smart decisions and ask questions about where their contributions are going," said Munro, whose office administers Washington’s Charitable Solicitations Act.

It is not illegal for fundraisers to keep the majority or a large percentage of the dollars donated. And Munro noted that it’s up to consumers to make their own judgements about whether they are getting good value for their charitable contributions.

"People shouldn't stop giving," said Attorney General Gregoire, "but they should find out how much of their donation will go directly to the causes they support and how much will go into the pockets of fundraisers."

Gregoire also warned that this is a time to be alert to charity scam artists, who play on the good will of the holiday season. She said consumers should resist impulse giving, ask key questions, and verify the answers with the Secretary of State’s Charities Program before making a contribution. Those questions are:

  • Is the charity or fundraiser registered with the state of Washington?
  • What is the name, address and telephone number of the organization asking for the donation?
  • Exactly how the donation will be used?
  • What percentage of the contribution will actually be spent on the charitable purpose of the organization?

Munro and Gregoire also recommend that consumers refrain from giving money to a fundraiser or charity that refuses to send written materials. In addition, consumers should never give their credit card number to a telephone solicitor or allow a courier to come and pick up a donation.

They also point out that many firefighting and law enforcement charities use commercial fundraisers. It is important to remember that when you receive a telephone solicitation from one of these groups, you are often talking to a paid solicitor, not an actual firefighter or police officer.

Representatives of commercial fundraisers are required by law to identify the fundraising firm as well as the charitable organization they represent when calling or asking for donations. It is illegal for a commercial fundraiser to lie to a donor about the percentage of contributions going to the charity or the purpose for which the funds are used.

Private organizations such as the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and the American Institute of Philanthropy (AIP) offer their own guidelines regarding donations made through a commercial fundraiser. The BBB suggests that consumers not contribute to any commercial fundraiser that retains more than 50 percent of a contribution; the AIP recommends that, in most cases, less than 40 percent of your donation should go to fundraising and administrative expenses.

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