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Do Your Homework Before You Donate

En español | ‘Tis the season for giving and there certainly is no shortage of charitable organizations that could use the help this year. For many non-profits, the recent economy has triggered escalating demand despite decreasing donations. But before you whip out your checkbook to lend a helping hand, you might want to investigate how much of that donation your charity is likely to see.

Strapped for time and resources, many charitable organizations hire commercial fundraisers to help raise money for them. But these services don’t come without strings attached. Commercial fundraisers typically charge a flat fee for their services or a percentage of what they collect. Some commercial fundraisers are incredibly effective at what they do, while others allocate the majority of donations to cover their overhead. Commercial fundraisers are required to register with the Attorney General’s office and detail income and expenses for each fundraising campaign they manage.

The 18th annual report on commercial fundraisers released by Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. Dec. 23, 2010 found that while commercial fundraisers in California raised $391.5 million in 2009, charitable organizations received less than 43 percent -- or $166.8 million -- of those funds. The remainder was retained by the commercial fundraisers as payment of fees and expenses.

The Attorney General’s office publishes a Guide to Charitable Giving for Donors that provides advice, guidelines and information to help individuals make informed decisions about giving.

The Guide suggests that donors:

1. Ask the solicitor how a donation will be distributed.

2. Ask what percentage of donations will be used to pay for fundraising expenses.

3. Ask if the solicitor works for a commercial fundraiser and is being paid to solicit.

4. Avoid cash donations.

5. Avoid giving credit card information to a telephone solicitor or in response to a telephone solicitation.

6. Learn about a charitable organization, its activities and its fundraising practices before giving.

For those interested, the Attorney General’s office maintains a searchable online database of registered charities, and on registered commercial fundraisers. Donors can also check the websites of the Wise Giving Alliance and the American Institute of Philanthropy.

Another alternative is to give the gift of time rather than money. Many charitable organizations find themselves flooded with help starting around Thanksgiving, but are just as quickly abandoned by fair weather volunteers after the hubbub of the holidays dies down.

If you’re looking for ideas or inspiration, Create The Good can help you find service opportunities right in your own zip code. Whether you have 5 minutes, 5 hours, 5 days or more, remember there are a number of ways you can give back.

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