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Giver Beware

The Washington Post

May 16, 2003



The Supreme Court's decision allowing states to take legal action against fund-raisers that engage in deceptive practices is a small victory for donors across America ("Court rules lying about funds is key to telemarketing fraud," Page 1, yesterday). States can protect donors from aggressive fund-raisers that lie about the intended use of donated funds. Sadly, the outcome of this case results in little real reform, as it does nothing to curtail the excessive fees telemarketers charge charities. 

At my organization, which helps donors make intelligent giving decisions by providing information on charities and by evaluating the financial health of each of those charities, we have found that the average charity spends 10 percent of its income on fund-raising. The case on which the Supreme Court ruled involved a professional fund-raiser that kept an outrageous 85 percent of the money it raised for a charity. Naively or not, many donors gave generously because they believed their money mostly benefited the charity, not the fund-raiser.

Regardless of this ruling, the burden of determining a charity's efficiency still resides with donors. They must be vigilant in asking charities how their donations will be put to use and adamant about withholding funding if they don't like the answers they receive. Once donors are empowered to make informed choices, charities will be motivated to promote true reform.
Executive director
Charity Navigator
Mahwah, N.J.


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