Attorney general offers tip on charitable giving

Attorney general offers tip on charitable giving

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In this season of holiday giving, donors are advised to ask questions before opening their check books. In a recently released report on professional solicitations for charity in 2012, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley said Massachusetts charities that hire professional solicitors received an average of 34 percent of the proceeds collected during charitable campaigns in 2012.

Professional solicitors are paid by organizations to solicit donations from the public and are required by statute to register with the AG’s Office, according to a press release. The Report on Professional Solicitations for Charity outlines the financial results reported by fundraisers and charities regarding campaigns conducted in Massachusetts during calendar year 2012. Published annually, the report is designed to assist residents in making informed decisions regarding their charitable giving by providing the public with information by calendar year on how much, on average, of every dollar raised by professional solicitors ends up with charities, the office of the attorney general said.

There are no regulations that dictate the minimum percentage or amount of money a professional solicitor must pass on to the charity.

“As always, we encourage donors to give generously to the Massachusetts charities that benefit those in need,” said Ms. Coakley. “However, we also advise that potential donors do some basic research to ensure that their donations are going to a worthy cause. During this holiday season, make sure you know where your donation is going, what it will be used for, and how much will ultimately benefit the charity whose mission you support.”

In 2012, professional solicitors collected more than $266 million, which is $122 million less than in 2011. Of the amount collected by professional solicitors in 2012, about $91 million ended up with the actual charities. This means that, on average, only 34 cents of every dollar that a professional solicitor collected was returned to the charity. In 2011, an average of 49 cents of every dollar that a professional solicitor raised went back to the charity.

The only Martha’s Vineyard organization that appears on the list of charities is

the Dukes County Sheriff’s Association, which used the services of All Pro Productions, Inc.

All Pro Productions raised a total of $77,367 and returned $28,626, or 37 percent, to the Dukes County Sheriff’s Association, according to the AG’s report.

All Pro specializes in assisting police and fire organizations, according to the report. For example, All Pro also assisted the Nantucket Permanent Firefighters Association Local 2509 in raising $100,254 of which $43,114 (43 percent) went to the charity.

The AG’s office said potential donors should consider asking basic questions when they are contacted by a professional solicitor, including: Is the solicitor calling your home a volunteer or a professional fundraiser; how much of every dollar donated will go to the charity; confirm the charity’s name and the services it offers to the public.

Professional solicitors are also required by law to disclose certain information when asked and, in general, are not allowed to mislead prospective donors or misrepresent facts.

The percentage of monies raised that goes to the charity can vary widely. The terms of each campaign are agreed upon by both the solicitor and the charitable organization and are reflected in the contracts that are filed with the AG’s office. In some contracts, the charity agrees to accept a percentage of funds raised, but

it is far more common for the contract to set forth the solicitors’ cost of performing the services involved in the campaign (for example, a per-call or per-contact charge or an hourly charge) and for the charity to agree to pay those costs and then retain the remainder of gross proceeds from the campaign, according to the report. The percentage of gross proceeds received by the charity in those types of arrangements depends on the cost of the service and the results of the campaign rather than an agreed-upon percentage.

The cost of the solicitation service, in turn, also depends on a number of factors, including the type of campaign the professional solicitors are hired to run. Ultimately, the amount of the funds raised that goes to the charity is a function of the agreement that the charity and the professional solicitor have made and the results of the campaign.

The AG’s office maintains annual financial statements from charities and professional solicitors that operate in this state, which are available for public inspection online. Consumers with concerns about solicitations they have received should contact the AG’s nonprofit organizations/public charities division at 617-963-2315.