Editorial: Make your gifts count

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 15, 2006

As we enter the most hectic days of the holiday season, the N.C. Secretary of State’s Office has some words of advice for those in a generous mood. If you receive a phone call soliciting contributions to a charity or nonprofit group, dig for some information before you dig into your pocket.

The state’s latest annual report on charitable donations shows that paid solicitors — companies that contract to raise funds for nonprofits and charities — are taking a larger slice of the proceeds in North Carolina. Between July 2005 and 2006, paid solicitors who report to the state raised $194 million for charities, but on average, the charities received only 48 cents of each dollar donated, compared to 55 cents in the previous report. And in many cases, donors may not even realize that they’re doing business with a middleman, rather than the charity itself.

How can potential donors make sure the bulk of their contributions are actually going to the desired cause? For starters, whenever you receive a phone solicitation seeking a donation, ask whether the caller is working for a telemarketing company and then ask what percentage of donations goes to the designated charity. If you have questions about the legitimacy of a particular charity or fund-raising group, you can call the Secretary of State’s Charitable Licensing Section (toll free at 1-888-830-4989) or contact them via e-mail at scl@sosnc.com. The Charitable Licensing Section’s Web site (www.secretary.state.nc.uscsl) also provides information on charities and nonprofits that are licensed to raise funds in North Carolina.

Another way to maximize your charitable dollars is to avoid the middleman entirely and make donations directly to charities or nonprofits, such as those in Rowan County’s United Way. We’d also note that the Post’s own Christmas Happiness fund, coordinated with the Rowan Department of Social Services, uses 100 percent of your contributions to help families in need.

There’s nothing wrong with telephone solicitations in themselves, or in the use of outside fund-raising help. Many nonprofits and charities benefit from the services of such groups, which can supplement fundraising through their own volunteers. But they’ll benefit even more when donors steer clear of fundraisers that keep more dollars than they pass along.