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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Protect yourself at donation time

The Spokesman-Review

Charity begins at homework.

That’s not the cheeriest of holiday messages, but donations to good causes can be heavily siphoned by fund-raisers. Only half of the money raised this year in Washington state made its way to charities, according to Secretary of State Sam Reed.

It’s sad, but if you want the most bang for your buck, you need to study up first. Some commercial fund-raisers pass along 90 percent or more of the money they raise; others keep that much. It’s appalling that fund-raisers would exploit compassion, and their excuses about covering expenses miss the entire point of the exercise. It just shouldn’t cost a dollar to raise a dime.

Nonetheless, there are enough unsuspecting donors to finance the growing commercial fund-raising industry. The number in Washington state has doubled since 1997. The only way to put them out of business is to check up on charities before writing a check.

First off, don’t be fooled by the name. Most commercial fund-raisers have feel-good names that make them sound like the charity itself. Ask solicitors whether they are working for the fund-raiser or the charity.

Don’t agree to any financial transactions over the telephone. Request written information that you can read at your leisure before making a decision. Be wary of solicitors who won’t give you that option.

Better yet, seek out the charities you want to help and pay them directly. But even before doing that, ask some basic questions:

How much of the money will go to expenses, such as salaries and overhead? What will be done with the money? Is it for researching a cure for a disease or building a suite of offices? If a charity is reluctant or unwilling to provide answers, move on to a more transparent one.

If you’re giving a small amount, consider sending it where it will do the most good. That $20 you’re about to send for cancer research would make a bigger difference at a local food bank.

There’s a lot of information on the Internet to help you make an efficient donation to a reputable charity. (See the accompanying information box.)

Yes, it’s a busy time of year, but a little research can end the uncertainty of dealing with middlemen. It’s not enough to be generous anymore. You also have to be vigilant.

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