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Give, but give wisely

by: Sam Reed
Secretary of State, WA

Since the worst act of terrorism on American soil last September, we've built a stronger, more generous nation.

In 2001, individual Americans gave roughly $160 billion to charity.  This holiday season we must continue to help those in need.  But to stretch our donations the farthest, we also must give wisely. 

Many of the solicitors who call and ask for donations are actually hired by the charity to raise money.  Thanks to these commercial fundraisers, charities reach a much larger audience.  They raise more money and as a result help more people in need. 

However, it is not illegal for commercial fundraisers to return a small percentage of solicited donations to their charity clients. A Supreme Court ruling prevents the state from telling organizations how much money they must return to a charitable program.    In recent years, some commercial fundraisers have turned over as little as 15 cents of every dollar to charity. We encourage consumers to examine an organization's history and financial information.

Distinguishing honorable charities and commercial fundraisers from dishonest organizations can be difficult.  The key to combating fraud is a combination of knowledge and information.  The Secretary of State's Office, Attorney General's Office and Better Business Bureau are three resources that can help.

We recommend consumers ask the following questions before making a donation:

Is the charity registered (as required by law) with the Office of the Secretary of State?  In Washington State, call 800.332.4483.

  • Is the solicitor a charity volunteer or a paid commercial fundraiser?
  • Of the funds raised (by the commercial fundraiser) how much was returned to or retained by the charity?
  •  How will the donation be used and how much will be applied to the charitable cause?

On the investigative front, we need consumers' help. The Attorney General's Office, charged with investigating charity fraud, has difficulty prosecuting charity scams without assistance from the public.  Without sufficient cause and information, there is little to investigate and little to present to the court.

Anyone who has seen or heard something suspicious is asked to contact the Washington Attorney General's Office at 800.551.4636 or click here.

National events have inspired all of us to open our hearts and our pocketbooks. Clearly, in Washington, the spirit of giving is second to none.

While the Secretary of State's Office recognizes and encourages the continued generosity of citizens, we are committed to protecting those who give as well as the intended recipients.  Being cautious with our donations is one of the greatest services we can provide to those in need.  It helps ensure they receive the very most of our generosity.    




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