SACRAMENTO November 29, 2012 - Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today released data showing that commercial fundraisers in California raised $338.5 million in 2011, just over half of which was actually received by charitable organizations.
The 51 percent of donated funds going to charities using a professional fundraiser represents an increase from the 2010 average of 44.4 percent. The data is included in the California Department of Justice's Annual Report of the results of commercial fundraising campaigns for charities, produced by the Charitable Trusts Section.
"This report gives Californians the vital information they need to make educated choices about where to make charitable contributions this holiday season," Attorney General Harris said. "While commercial fundraisers play a role in supporting charities in California, it is important for donors to know how much of their money will be used to support the charity's programs, and how much will go to overhead."
Commercial fundraisers, who are hired by charities to raise money on their behalf, typically charge a flat fee for their services or take a percentage of the contributions they collect. Most charities registered with the Attorney General do not use commercial fundraisers to raise funds, but do their own, in-house fundraising.
By law, commercial fundraisers must register with the Attorney General's office prior to fundraising in California and must file annual financial disclosure reports detailing income and expenses for each fundraising campaign.
The annual report contains an alphabetical list of charities that hired commercial fundraisers in 2011 – along with the total revenue raised in those campaigns and the dollar amount and percentage of total funds raised that went to the charity.
According to reports filed with the Attorney General's office, commercial fundraisers who operate in California collected $338.5 million in donations in 2011. This figure excludes thrift store operations and vehicle donation programs, which are accounted for separately.
On average, $172.8 million – or 51.05 percent of the funds raised – went to the charities. The remainder was retained by the commercial fundraisers as payment for fees and expenses.
The Attorney General's office also publishes the Guide to Charitable Giving for Donors that provides advice, guidelines and information to help donors make informed decisions about giving. The guide suggests that donors:
- Ask the fundraiser how a donation will be distributed. Fundraisers are required by law to tell a consumer this information.
- Ask what percentage of donations will be used to pay for fundraising expenses. This information can better inform the consumer as to how much of the contribution will go to the cause versus overhead.
- Ask if the fundraiser works for a commercial fundraiser and is being paid to solicit. If the answer is yes, then it is likely less of the funds are going to the charity.
- Avoid cash donations, as cash can more easily be diverted to non-charitable purposes and there is no way to trace it.
- Avoid giving credit card information to a telephone solicitor or in response to a telephone solicitation.
- Learn about a charitable organization, its activities and its fundraising practices before giving. The Attorney General's office maintains a searchable online database on registered charities and registered professional fundraisers at http://rct.doj.ca.gov/MyLicenseVerification/Search.aspx. Donors can also check the websites of the Wise Giving Alliance at http://www.bbb.org/us/charity/ and the American Institute of Philanthropy at http://www.charitywatch.org/. The Guide to Charitable Giving for Donors is available online at: http://oag.ca.gov/charities/publications
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