In advance of Giving Tuesday and the holiday season, New York Attorney General Letitia James today released her annual Pennies for Charity: Fundraising by Professional Fundraisers report, which analyzes data submitted to the Office of the Attorney General’s (OAG) Charities Bureau by professional fundraisers on their 2021 charitable fundraising campaigns in New York. The report looks at trends in the sector, provides guidance and tips for donors, and gives charities information on fundraisers’ performance. This year’s report found that professional fundraisers received over a quarter of every dollar donated to charities that employed them in 2021 in fees and expenses — a total of more than $460 million. Analyzing 658 campaigns conducted by professional fundraisers in 2021, the report finds that charities received 73 percent of donations, in line with the year prior and a small increase from 2019. Professional fundraisers are outside, for-profit organizations often hired by charities to run campaigns.
“When New Yorkers make the generous choice to give to a charity, they trust that their money will be used responsibly,” said Attorney General James. “In advance of the holiday season and Giving Tuesday tomorrow, New Yorkers can rest assured that my office is working every day to protect their wallets and deliver the transparency they so rightly deserve. I encourage anyone planning to donate this season to consult our tips for charitable giving to ensure their thoughtful gift goes to the right place.”
New York is home to many diverse charitable organizations and institutions, which like all parts of our society, faced many challenges during the coronavirus pandemic. Despite the pandemic’s continuing economic impact and limitations on in-person events, donations rose to over $1.7 billion in 2021 — an increase of almost $250 million from 2020 and over $400 million from 2019 pre-pandemic contributions. Other report findings include:
- In 276 campaigns — 42 percent — charities received less than 50 percent of funds raised, with professional fundraisers retaining the rest.
- In 96 campaigns — 15 percent — expenses exceeded revenue and cost charities over $10 million. This is fewer cases than last year for both findings.
This year’s Pennies for Charity report includes information from reports filed with OAG’s Charities Bureau by professional fundraisers for charity campaigns conducted in 2021. Professional fundraisers must register with OAG and their financial reports must break down the campaign’s earnings and expenses. The report and the searchable Pennies for Charity database containing the findings of those reports are posted on the Charities Bureau website here.
The report also lays out tips for donors to follow before donating over the phone, through mail, or online to ensure that their contributions reach the causes they intend to support. The report is linked above for a full guide, but important tips to keep in mind include:
- If you are contacted by a telemarketer, ask questions to make an informed decision: New York law requires telemarketers soliciting for charities to make certain disclosures to potential donors and prohibits them from making false, misleading, or deceptive statements to contributors. Telemarketers are required to tell potential donors their names, which professional fundraiser employs them, and if the telemarketer is getting paid. Donors may also ask what percentage of their donation will go to the fundraiser for fees and expenses.
- If you receive a direct mail charitable appeal, verify the soliciting organization: Does the organization have a name that sounds like a well-known charity? Double-check — is it the one you think it is? Does the mailing claim to follow up on a pledge that you do not remember making? Does it clearly describe the programs that the charity plans to fund with your donation?
- If you are donating online, do your research first: Donating online or via an app is convenient for donors and can be cost effective for a charity. But before hitting “Send,” donors should check whether a campaign is legitimate. Below are steps to take before donating online:
- Some online platforms that host groups and individuals soliciting for causes do not obtain permission from charities, or vet those charities who use their service. Donors should only give to campaigns conducted by people whom they know. Donors also should check what fees they will be charged and make sure that the charity has given its permission for the use of its name or logo. The site or the charity should confirm that the charity has approved the campaign.
- When donating online, make sure the website is secure: The web address should start with “https.” Unless the charity uses a separate payment site, the web address should match that of the organization that will receive the donation.
- Be wary of email solicitations that ask you to click a link or open attachments. These could be phishing scams that try to trick you into giving out your credit card number, Social Security number, or other confidential information.
- More information about OAG’s Charities Bureau and organizations it regulates may be found online here. If you believe an organization is misrepresenting its work or that a scam is taking place, please contact OAG’s Charities Bureau at firstname.lastname@example.org or 212-416-8401.
This report was authored by Director of Registration and Fundraising Sections Hanna Rubin and Fundraising Supervisor Siobhan Blank of the Charities Bureau. Data analysis was completed by Data Analyst Anushua Choudhury of the Research and Analytics Department, under the supervision of Deputy Director Megan Thorsfeldt and Director Jonathan Werberg. The Charities Bureau is led by Bureau Chief James Sheehan and Deputy Bureau Chief Karin Kunstler Goldman. The Charities Bureau is a part of the Division for Social Justice, which is led by Chief Deputy Attorney General Meghan Faux and is overseen by First Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy.