State report: Millions in charitable donations never reach clients

A new report from the Secretary of State confirms millions of dollars are going to paid fundraisers and marketing campaigns. In some cases, less than 50 percent of the money raised ends up going to the actual charity. It's another reminder to exercise extreme caution if you're thinking about making a charitable donation this holiday season.

Charity fundraisers hit you up by mail, intrude on the internet, and pester you by phone. During the holiday season especially, charities rake in millions thanks to our desire to give. But just because they claim to represent charities, doesn't mean the charities are getting most of the cash.

"I think when you give to any kind of charity you really have to do your homework," said Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman.

Wyman warns you need to be especially careful when it comes to commercial fundraisers- companies that are "paid" to ask you for money.

"Some commercial fundraisers keep as much as 90 percent of that dollar," Wyman explained. "So you really want to make sure your money's going to the charity you're interested in."

According to the Secretary of State's latest Commercial Fundraiser Activity Report, of the 116 commercial fundraisers registered, only 7 returned more than 80 cents on the dollar to clients. Thirty commercial fundraisers gave clients less than 20 cents on the dollar, and 5 actually spent more than they raised.

Before you give a donation, check out charities on the Secretary of State's website or call the state Charities Program at 1-800 332-GIVE (Washington only) to make sure your money will be used efficiently. Two other good websites that can help you verify charities and confirm where money is actually going, are Charity Navigator, and Charity Watch.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson says it's also important to ask questions, especially when you're asked to make a monetary donation on the spot. Many so-called charities post themselves outside retail businesses to collect cash- but they're not legally registered charities at all. Ferguson encourages anyone who suspects an illegal or deceptive charity to file a complaint on the Attorney General's website.

"We see those storefront folks who set up, they have a very sympathetic sounding name," Ferguson said. "We deal with these bad actors all the time. And it helps us to know if you see someone whose suspicious, call our office. When we get complaints, then we can do our investigation and hold them accountable and put them out of business."