Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson


OLYMPIA — Secretary of State Kim Wyman and Attorney General Bob Ferguson are urging Washington residents to make wise choices when giving money to charity, avoiding unscrupulous fundraising groups during the upcoming holidays and afterward.

The two statewide officials who deal most closely with charities also are sharing tips on how to give wisely.

“Washingtonians are very generous and big-hearted,” Wyman said. “As we were reminded after the Oso tragedy last spring and the wildfires in north-central Washington last summer, many of us give money to help those in need, whether it’s here or around the world. Unfortunately, scammers can victimize people if donors aren’t careful and do their homework before they give. We want to help people avoid being ripped off.”

“Charity scams increase during the holidays,” said Ferguson. “It is important to exercise caution and make sure your money helps those who truly need it.”

  • Ask the caller to send written information about the organization.
  • Beware if the caller offers to send a courier to collect your donation immediately.
  • Don’t give in to high-pressure solicitations that demand an instant commitment. Just hang up!
  • If you decide to donate, write a check and make it payable to the charity.
  • Never send cash or give your credit card or bank account number.
  • Don’t be fooled by a name. Some organizations use similar-sounding names, or names that closely resemble those of respected, well-established charities. Be sure to check them out.

The Office of Secretary of State’s Charities Program has released the latest figures in its Commercial Fundraiser Activity Report.

Overall this year, charities that used commercial fundraisers received an average of 48 percent of contributions, slightly higher than the 46 percent found in the 2012 and 2013 reports but lower than 56 percent reported in 2011. As usual, the percentage that individual fundraisers retained was wide-ranging: Some fundraisers kept less than 10 percent and sent the remaining funds to charity, while other fundraisers’ fees and expenses were more than the amount raised.

The report 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.

Click http://www.sos.wa.gov/_assets/charities/FundraiserReport.pdf to see the current report, which can be viewed as a PDF or Excel file.

Here is a link showing the report’s history: http://www.sos.wa.gov/charities/Combined-Fundraiser-Report-History.aspx.

“It’s sad to think there are unscrupulous solicitors preying on unsuspecting seniors, but unfortunately it happens,” Wyman said. “That’s why we ask donors to find out where their money will go when they give. We hope all contributors – regardless of age – will take time to learn which commercial fundraising groups rate poorly on forwarding donated money to the intended charities.”

The report, which has existed since 1995, was revamped in 2012 so it now is updated weekly. Consumers can run their own reports in real time and get current registration information on commercial fundraisers.

“I encourage potential donors to use this report – and the other registration and financial information available from my office – to give wisely this holiday season and beyond,” Wyman said.

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.

“People should realize that when someone asks them for a donation, there’s a chance a third party is getting paid to make that solicitation,” Wyman said. “Although most of these commercial fundraisers help important charities stay afloat, some use a large portion of donations to pay for administrative costs and expenses – or to make a large profit.”

“Investigating the charity before giving will help ensure you don’t get scammed,” said Ferguson. “In the unfortunate event you do get scammed, contact my office.”

The Washington Attorney General and Secretary of State advise consumers to contact potential charities directly. For more information on finding charities, visit the SOS charity lookup at http://www.sos.wa.gov/charities/search.aspx. You can also contact the OSOS Charities Hotline at 1-800-332-4483. If a consumer believes they have been scammed, contact the AGO at 1-800-551-4636.

2014 Commercial Fundraiser Activity Report at a glance (As of Oct. 15)

  • 8 fundraisers returned more than 80% of total contributions to their charity clients.
  • On the other hand, 22 returned less than 20% of the funds raised to their charity clients.
  • 5 fundraisers’ fees and expenses were more than the amount raised, resulting in a net loss for the charities.
  • More than $572 million was raised in Washington and elsewhere by the 129 commercial fundraisers included in the report. This amount is about $50 million more than reported in December 2013.
  • The average percentage of contributions returned to charity clients was 48 percent overall ($275.47 million). The percentage last December was 46 percent ($242.3 million). Compared to the average over the last decade, the amount charities are profiting from these campaigns is down this year.
  • The fundraiser with the highest percentage rate returned 98 percent to charity.
  • The fundraiser with the lowest percentage rate came in at -1,392 percent, meaning the charity lost money on the partnership.
  • There are currently approximately 10,300 charities registered in Washington. Of those, 632 (or 6.1%) report using paid fundraising services.