Donors Beware

On Thursday, Attorney General Coakley initiated a lawsuit against a professional fundraiser who was raising money for a veterans group. The alleged crime? Telling donors that 100 percent of the proceeds went to charity when, in reality, it was 15 percent.

Crazy. Outrageous. Right? Well, what do you think the average professional fundraiser contributes to charity? 80 percent? 70 percent?

Try less than 50 percent on average. That’s right, that voice on the phone (when it’s a professional fundraiser) asking for a donation typically keeps more than half of your donation. Take a spin through the Attorney General Office’s compilation (arrayed by fundraiser here and by charity here) of how much professional fundraisers give to each of their individual charitable clients. It is shockingly low in many case—lots of charities getting 10 percent to 20 percent of proceeds.

In fact, the best of the lot appears to be Coinstar, the supermarket-based coin-counting machines. Their 7.5 percent take seems like a pittance when compared to other fundraisers’ 70 percent or 90 percent.

So, if you give to charity, do your homework. Avoid professional fundraisers and middlemen, read the AG’s report, and check the financials of the charity on Guidestar to insure that your funds are being used wisely.