In preparation for Giving Tuesday and the holiday season, Attorney General Letitia James today released the annual “Pennies for Charity: Fundraising by Professional Fundraisers” report, which found that nearly one-third of charitable donations ended up in the pockets of professional fundraisers. This year’s report looks at trends in fundraising, such as the rise of online giving, as well as the percentage of funds raised that went to charities.
“Every year, New Yorkers give generously to charity. Unfortunately, not all the money they donate reaches the charities they intend to help,” said Attorney General James. “Today’s report highlights the high percentage of charitable dollars that are pocketed by outside fundraisers rather than reaching the charity itself. My office will continue to combat charity fraud, and I encourage all New Yorkers to follow our tips to ensure that their money is going to a reputable source this holiday season.”
New York has a robust charitable sector, supported by generous giving by New Yorkers. In 2019, more than $1.2 billion was raised in New York state through 824 fundraising campaigns conducted by professional fundraisers on behalf of charities. These campaigns, which are the focus of the report, used a range of methods including special events, direct mail, and telemarketing. The report and the searchable Pennies for Charity database containing the underlying data is posted at CharitiesNYS.com.
Of the more than $1.2 billion raised through campaigns conducted by professional fundraisers, charities netted more than $918 million, or 72 percent of the proceeds, while professional fundraisers’ fees and expenses totaled $364 million, or 28 percent. This is in line with an overall improvement in amounts retained by charities, which the report attributes to a variety of factors including enforcement and donor education efforts by the Charities Bureau.
This year’s report also analyzed current fundraising trends, such as the rise in online giving. Telemarketing, while continuing to decline as a fundraising method, remained among the costliest mechanisms, with 196 telemarketing campaigns by fundraisers retaining more than 50 percent of funds raised for charities.
“Pennies for Charity” aggregates information from fundraising reports filed with the Attorney General’s Charities Bureau for campaigns conducted by professional fundraisers on behalf of charities in the previous year. Professional fundraisers must register with the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) and provide financial reports that break down the revenue raised and the expenses generated by the campaign.
Other significant findings from analyzing the 824 fundraising campaigns covered by this report include:
- In 254 campaigns, or approximately 31 percent of the campaigns covered in the report, fundraisers retained more than 50 percent of the funds raised.
- Charities retained $918 million overall of the funds solicited from the campaigns; fundraisers retained $364 million.
- In 144 campaigns (17 percent), fundraising expenses exceeded charitable revenue. In 2019, this loss to charities totaled more than $17 million.
The OAG actively investigates suspect fundraising practices. To assist charities in navigating the world of professional fundraisers, the report includes tips for charities hiring fundraisers.
The report also includes tips for donors, including specific guidance for responding to phone, direct mail, or online solicitations.
Key tips include:
- Take time to research the organization. Make sure you are familiar with the organization, its mission, and its effectiveness before giving. Always ask for information in writing — and be wary if an organization will not provide information about its charitable programs and finances upon request. Any legitimate organization will be happy to send you information.
- Consult CharitiesNYS.com to make sure that the organization is registered and to learn more about its mission and finances.
- Online platforms that host groups and individuals soliciting for causes do not vet those who use their service. Donors should find out whether a charity has authorized the campaign and if their contribution is tax deductible.
- Search the charity’s name on the internet for reports of possible scams or law enforcement actions and check the charity’s rating on watchdog sites like Charity Navigator.
- Know where your money will go. Find out how the charity plans to use your donation, including the services and programs your donation will support. Avoid charities that make emotional appeals but are vague in answering your questions. If you have been contacted by a telemarketer, review the Pennies for Charity database to see how much is spent on fundraising costs and how much is kept by the charity.
- Do not be pressured by telemarketers. If you receive a telephone call from someone asking you to contribute to a charity, you have the right to hang up. Often the caller is a professional fundraiser who is being paid to call you.
- If you choose to consider the caller’s request, ask how much of your donation will go to charity and if the telemarketer is being paid. Many telemarketing companies receive most of the money they raise. Be wary of claims such as “all proceeds will go to charity.” Telemarketers are required to identify themselves and their employer and tell you they are being paid to call you. They also must respond truthfully to your questions. Don’t fall for pressure tactics, such as repeated phone calls or threats. These are signs that the organization may not be legitimate. Always remember you have the right to say no to any charitable request.
- You can ask to receive information about the cause and a solicitation by mail.
- Consider making a plan for your charitable giving so you are not vulnerable to sudden pressure.
- Ask to be put on a “do not call” list. You have the right to request to be placed on the telemarketer’s “Do Not Call” list. It is not illegal for telemarketers for charities to call telephone numbers on the FTC’s Do Not Call Registry, but consumers can stop such calls by telling telemarketers not to call them on behalf of specific charities. Telemarketers are required to honor such requests. You may also ask a charity to take you off its solicitation list.
- Be wary of deceptive tactics and emotional appeals. Watch out for charities with names that resemble those of prominent or established organizations — especially on days designated to charitable giving. Some charities do this in order to confuse donors. Be wary of emotional appeals that talk about problems, but are vague on how donations will be spent.
- Do not disclose personal information. Never give your social security number or other personal information in response to a charitable solicitation. Never give out credit card information over the phone or to an organization you are not familiar with.
- If donating online or via text, donate securely. Always make sure that you are using secure methods of payment. When donating online, make sure the website is secure and includes “https://” in the web address. Before hitting send on a text donation, check the charity’s website or call the charity to make sure contributions by text message are authorized. Some text solicitations are scams. Also, remember that donating by text means the organization may not receive the funds until after your phone bill is paid; contributions made directly to a charity can reach them faster.
- Never give cash. Give your contribution by check made payable to the charity.
- To help in a disaster, give to organizations you know or that have experience in this work. Ask if the charity has already worked in the affected area or has relationships with local relief organizations.
- Report suspicious organizations. If you believe an organization is misrepresenting its work, or that a scam is taking place, please contact the Attorney General’s Charities Bureau at firstname.lastname@example.org or 212-416-8401.
Hanna Rubin, Director of Registrations and Fundraising Sections for the Attorney General’s Charities Bureau, authored this report, with the assistance of Charities Bureau Fundraising supervisor Siobhan Blank and Legal Department Document Specialist Rebecca Groves. Data analysis was provided by Deputy Research Director Megan Thorsfeldt and Data Analyst Anushua Choudhury. James Sheehan is the Charities Bureau Chief and Karin Kunstler Goldman is the Deputy Bureau Chief. The Charities Bureau is part of the Social Justice Division, led by Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice Meghan Faux.
More information about the Attorney General’s Charities Bureau and organizations regulated by the Bureau may be found at CharitiesNYS.com.