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Report: Professional fundraisers kept 28% of donations last year

As Giving Tuesday, and closer to home, ROC the Day, draw closer, New York Attorney General Letitia James has released a new report that shows that nearly one-third of charitable donations ended up in the pockets of professional fundraisers, rather than the charities they were intended for.

“Every year, New Yorkers give generously to charity. Unfortunately, not all the money they donate reaches the charities they intend to help,” James said. “Today’s report highlights the high percentage of charitable dollars that are pocketed by outside fundraisers rather than reaching the charity itself. My office will continue to combat charity fraud, and I encourage all New Yorkers to follow our tips to ensure that their money is going to a reputable source this holiday season.”

Some 2 million New York taxpayers reported $42.5 billion in charitable giving in 2017, the most recent year available. This amount is up dramatically from $37 billion the previous year, the report notes.

Many charities use professional, for-profit fundraisers as outside contractors to educate donors about their mission and increase returns. Fundraisers can play a critical role in furthering a charity’s mission, and many belong to professional associations that require them to commit to a code of ethics.

These fundraisers’ campaigns in New York are the focus of the Pennies for Charity report. In recent years, Pennies for Charity has documented a steady improvement in the percentage of funds charities receive from campaigns conducted by professional fundraisers.

New York has a robust charitable sector, supported by generous giving by its residents. In 2019, more than $1.2 billion was raised in New York state through 824 fundraising campaigns conducted by professional fundraisers on behalf of charities. These campaigns, which are the focus of the report, used a range of methods including special events, direct mail and telemarketing.

Though many fundraisers’ diligence and expertise help charities achieve their goals, some collect fees so large that charities receive only a small fraction of the total money donated. Some fundraisers also partner with sham charities to give potential donors misleading information.

This past year, Operation Bottomfeeder, an enforcement initiative of the Office of the New York State Attorney General, shut down several fraudulent fundraisers and the charities that hired them

Of the more than $1.2 billion raised in New York, charities netted more than $918 million, or 72 percent of the proceeds, while professional fundraisers’ fees and expenses totaled $364 million, or 28 percent. This is in line with an overall improvement in amounts retained by charities, which the report attributes to a variety of factors including enforcement and donor education efforts by the Charities Bureau.

Percentages to charities and fundraisers from Pennies For Charity
Percentages to charities and fundraisers from Pennies For Charity

The report also analyzed current fundraising trends, such as the rise in online giving. Telemarketing, while continuing to decline as a fundraising method, remained among the costliest mechanisms, with 196 telemarketing campaigns by fundraisers retaining more than 50 percent of funds raised for charities.

Other significant findings from analyzing the 824 fundraising campaigns covered by this report include:

• In 254 campaigns, or roughly 31 percent of the campaigns covered in the report, fundraisers retained more than 50 percent of the funds raised.
• In 144 campaigns, or 17 percent, fundraising expenses exceeded charitable revenue. In 2019, this loss to charities totaled more than $17 million.
• Of the $481.8 million raised by professional fundraisers through telemarketing, charities kept $189.6 million, while the fundraisers netted $242.2 million.

The attorney general’s office suggests that donors take time to research a charity before giving and to know where the money is going. Additionally, donors should be wary of deceptive tactics and emotional appeals and never to disclose personal information.

More information about the Attorney General’s Charities Bureau and organizations regulated by the Bureau may be found at

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
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Siena poll finds more shopping, less donating

The second annual ROC Holiday Village has been expanded from 11 days to 14 days, including four days after Christmas (photo provided by ROC Holiday Village).
The second annual ROC Holiday Village has been expanded from 11 days to 14 days, including four days after Christmas (photo provided by ROC Holiday Village).

If you can put a number on excitement, New Yorkers are a little more excited about the holidays than last year, according to a Siena College Research Institute poll, perhaps because they’re feeling stronger about their financial situations.

That’s probably good news for retailers, as nearly half the respondents said they plan to spend about $500 on Christmas, and 20 percent said they’ll spend $1,000 or more. About 30 percent said they’ll cap spending at $300.

“Holiday gift budgets have risen slightly, and New Yorkers’ collective view of their personal finances is up compared to a year ago,” said Don Levy, SCRI director. “… Most will have a tree in their home and with over 80 percent shopping online, for some the internet may be replacing the North Pole.”

About 40 percent of those polled said they’ll do at least half their shopping online.

Shoppers may be feeling more financially secure this year, but also less charitable and perhaps a bit touchy on that subject. The survey found 63 percent plan to donate to causes that support the needy, which represents a five-point decline from the previous year. A record 12 percent said they don’t know if they’ll donate or refused to answer. The average percentage for “don’t know/refuse to answer” on the charity question over 11 previous years had been 3 percent.

Siena conducted the poll Nov. 19-22, using responses of more than 800 New Yorkers, selected randomly from a representative distribution of population. The respondents included about half reached by landline or cell phones, and the other half comprising a proprietary Siena panel.

[email protected]/(585) 363-7275