It’s the season to give to charities – and maybe throw your money away.

Suppose most of the charities are good. They are sincere, efficient and legitimate. But too many are ineffective, selfish, or even bogus.

Too often, donors line the pockets of professional fundraisers rather than helping the needy or a good cause. The gift becomes a lump of coal.

“We are trying to ensure that the charitable money is going to help people instead of being diverted for non-charitable purposes – like in the personal bank accounts of board members,” the state attorney general said. , Rob Bonta. “We’re talking millions of dollars. “

Many charities net 80-90% or even more of the donations raised by their paid fundraisers. But many also receive as little as 5% to 25% – or worse. Some even end up owing the money from a fundraiser because the overhead costs exceed the amount raised.

“Operating costs should not exceed 50%,” says Bonta.

I would say 35% maximum. If more than 35 cents of my dollar goes into a fundraiser wallet, count me.

The Attorney General prepares a long report on charitable fundraising every year. It shows how much they collect – and how much they donate to charity or keep.

Bonta recently took an unnoticed statewide tour, warning the public about scammers while promoting well-known local charities.

“Fraudulent organizations are always looking to capitalize on the desire to help people,” he warned.

“Do your research before you donate. Find out how the charity spends its donations. How much is spent directly for the charitable cause? How much goes for overhead and employee compensation? “

Yes indeed!

You can waste your breath asking for answers from a lawyer over the phone. Or call the charity and swear while you wait on hold.

Or click on the website of the attorney general and search for “Summary of Charitable Giving Campaigns Led by Professional Fundraisers”. And if you find it, delve into 271 pages.

But more likely, you are in too much of a vacation rush. Plus, you don’t have a lot of time to send charitable donations before January 1 so they can be deducted on 2021 tax returns.

So you wing it.

The attorney general’s report shows the total amount of donations raised nationally by fundraisers canvassing in California. Most charities don’t use independent fundraisers, according to the attorney general’s office. Thus, the report only provides a partial picture.

But the fundraisers surveyed raised just over $ 1 billion in 2020, up $ 220 million from 2019.

The good news is that charities received 82% of transportation overall, which is 3.4% more than in 2019 and 13.2% more than five years earlier.

One of the main reasons charities are seeing bigger cuts and donors giving more money is that more and more people are contributing online. There are fewer aerial solicitations electronically than by telephone or mail. And it’s easier for a donor than to write a check and send it in the mail. At least for the younger generations.

Among my frustrations are the harassing phone calls from lawyers.

“If you feel pressured or threatened, hang up,” Bonta said.

I hang up anyway. Get off my phone line!

Another gripe is that charities are never happy. Even though I donate in December, I am harassed every month in perpetuity. They clog my mailbox all year round. I trash the junk.

Some people send me pennies or dimes – even an occasional dollar? Ridiculous. I pocket it and throw the envelope away. If they can afford to send millions of people money, they don’t need my $ 50.

In fact, $ 50 hardly pays for a solicitation. So, to recoup this expense, the charity sells my address, phone number, and personal information to other attorneys. That’s why I get outfit calls I’ve never heard of. I hate that too.

Shady charities often use seductive words in their titles such as “cancer”, “veterans”, “firefighters” and “children”. They drain legitimate charities.

In January, then-Attorney General Xavier Becerra and other attorneys general across the country pounced on a group called Healing Heroes who falsely advertised they were using 100% of their donations to help injured veterans. . He really only spent 16% on vets. The deceivers were arrested and forced to pay $ 95,000 to a legitimate veterans charity.

Some of the worst fundraisers raise money for public safety charities. Bonta reported that several newsworthy police and fire organizations had received only small discounts from their lawyers.

They included the Fraternal Order of the California Police, the Firefighters Charitable Foundation, the Irvine Police Association, the Alliance of Volunteer Firefighters, the California Police Youth Charities and the Association national police chiefs. All of them received only 20% or less of the money given to them.

Also on that list were the Autism Spectrum Disorder Foundation, the Veterans Support Foundation, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Childhood Leukemia Association, and the United Cancer Support Foundation.

At the top, these charities received at least 90% of their donations: Everytown for Gun Safety, Food for the Poor, Habitat for Humanity International, Save the Children Federation, International Fellowship of Christians & Jews, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and Sierra Club . .

The safest bet is to donate directly to local charities whose work you can observe.

I mainly donate to a journalism scholarship fund at the Sacramento Press Club. I know 100% of my donation goes to a promising student in need.

But for charities that spend less than 65 cents of the donated dollar as advertised – or flood my mailbox and keep calling – bah, joke.

George Skelton is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times.

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