ALBANY — Nearly one third of the money New Yorkers donated to charities that used professional fundraisers last year went someplace other than expected, according to a recent report.
The annual Pennies for Charity report issued by the state's Attorney General's Office found that New Yorkers donated $1.3 billion in 2018 through 891 fundraising campaigns conducted by professional fundraising organizations working on behalf of charities.
Of that, $370 million, or 27%, was retained by the organizations, netting charities a total of $984 million last year.
The 73% of donations retained by charities last year represents a 4% increase from 2017, according to the report.
Attorney General Letitia James urged New Yorkers to use caution before donating any money this holiday season and to report any suspicious activity to the state's Charities Bureau.
“Too often, charitable dollars are pocketed by outside fundraisers rather than reaching the charity and furthering its mission," James said in a statement.
The state's Council of Nonprofits did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but has previously pointed to the need to pay overhead and staff for organizations retaining charitable funds.
Overall, the amount of money donated by New Yorkers through campaigns using professional fundraisers is small, the report noted. Two million New Yorkers who itemized their taxes reported $37 billion in charitable giving in 2016, the most recent year available, James' report noted.
Of the 891 charitable campaigns conducted by professional fundraisers last year, charities received less than half the money raised in 273 cases, or on average of 30%.
In 161 instances, fundraiser expenses exceeded the revenue raised for the charities, resulting in a $13 million loss, according to the report.
Still, the amount of money retained by charities has grown 6% since 2016.
The increase can be attributed to improved oversight and enforcement in recent years as well as charities seeking better terms from fundraising organization's, according to the report.
"The Charities Bureau’s enforcement actions have served as a deterrent, as have similar enforcement actions by other states," the report said.
A total of 73% of the money raised by professional fundraisers last year was given to charities. That's a 6% increase from 2016.
A total of 73% of the money raised by professional fundraisers last year was given to charities. That's a 6% increase from 2016. (Photo: New York State Attorney General's Charities Buearu)
The $1.3 billion donated by New Yorkers in 2018 represents a 14% increase from 2017, according to the report.
The increase bucks a national trend — charitable donations declined 1.7% last year, according to Giving USA, an organization that tracks nonprofit donations.
Online giving continued to increase in 2018 due in large part to charitable campaigns on social media.
Telemarketing campaigns, meanwhile, continued to shrink but still managed to retain more than $200 million through 550 campaigns in 2018 compared to 2016, when there were 628 such campaigns.
And that number is likely dwindle again in the coming years.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo recenlty approved legislation requiring live-person telemarketers to inform consumers they have the right to be added to the company's internal do-not-call list, a moved aimed at reducing "nuisance calls" and bolster privacy protections.
New Yorkers looking to donate this holiday season are urged to use caution before giving any money.
Some tips to remember:
Never disclose personal information. Social security numbers should never be given out in response to a charitable solicitation, and credit card numbers should never be over the phone or to an organization you may not be familiar with.
Never give cash. Donations should be made through a check payable to the charity.
Be wary of deceptive tactics. Be wary of organizations that use names similar to prominent organizations and don't be afraid to ask questions when givin. Some charities will try to appeal to your emotions in the hopes of soliciting a donation. It's OK to ask how your money is going to be spent.
Donate securely. Before making any donation online, be sure the website is secure by checking for "https://" in the web address. If donating via text, be sure you're not being scammed by contacting the charity directly.
Report suspicious activity. If you believe an organization is not being honest or that you're being scammed, you can report the incident to the state's Attorney General's Charities Bureau email@example.com or by calling (212) 416-8401.
For more information on charities operating in the state, you can visit the Charities Bureau at charitiesnys.com.