Sam Reed's Fundraiser Rankings: Some Firms Charge Charity Clients More Than They Collect

A 93 percenter
There are 9,684 charities registered in Washington State, 685 of which use commercial fundraising services. Ranked at the top of the Secretary of State's fundraisers list is Lewis Direct, which passed along a phenomenal 99 percent of its collected contributions to its charity clients. At the rock bottom is Public Outreach Fundraising, which passed along none. Actually, less than none. Minus 1,730 percent less than none.

This fiscal year, Public Outreach reports it collected $47,961 in donations on behalf of the American Red Cross, Save The Children Federation and Medecins Sans Frontieres USA. But the charities paid a lot more than that for their services, leaving them with a deficit of $829,773.

In a statement, the fundraiser says "The figures reported are not representative of the entire amount the charity receives," although it doesn't clearly explain why.

To Secretary of State Sam Reed, it means, at best, "the charity lost money on the partnership." Reed and Attorney General Rob McKenna say be wary about such fundraisers. Rule No. 1 if solicited: be sure to ask how much of your donation will actually go to the charity itself.

Bellevue's Coinstar, for one, returned 93 percent to charities this year. But a Las Vegas-based fundraiser named Courtesy Call raised almost $4.3 million, yet passed along only 13 percent - $574,000 - to its charity clients, keeping the rest for its services.

Altogether, commercial fundraisers brought in more than $773 million, with $434 million - about 56 percent - going to charity. Forty-six fundraisers kept more than 80 percent of what they raised, while just ten passed along 80 percent or more of the funds to clients.

"While most of these commercial fundraisers help keep many crucial charities afloat in Washington," Reed says in a news release, "some wind up using the bulk of donations to pay for administrative costs and expenses, or to make a hefty profit."

Before you give, check out the annual report here.

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