Of more than $2.6 million it collected last year, a Kent-based commercial fund-raiser sent along less than $91,000 to the two charities for which it sought donations, according...

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Of more than $2.6 million it collected last year, a Kent-based commercial fund-raiser sent along less than $91,000 to the two charities for which it sought donations, according to a state report issued yesterday.


That 4 percent pass-through to charities placed Unique Equity, Inc., at the bottom of the Washington Secretary of State’s 2004 fund-raiser activity report, in terms of the percentage of funds going to clients. Those charities were Spokane-based National Multiple Sclerosis Society/Inland Northwest Chapter and Tacoma-based United Cerebral Palsy of South Puget Sound.


Federal law bars states from setting a minimum percentage of funds that paid fund-raisers must pass along to the charities in whose name they solicit contributions. But in an effort to educate consumers, the Secretary of State’s Office issues an annual report on commercial fund-raisers.


Tips for giving wisely

Here are a few helpful tips for giving wisely: how to research a charity, find information online and resist high-pressure pitches.

This year’s lists 110 registered commercial fund-raisers who solicited more than $368 million and returned roughly 49 percent of that to their charity clients. That compares to almost $376 million in contributions in 2002, of which 45.4 percent went to charities.


“We are greatly encouraged that more of every dollar donated in our state is going to charity,” said Secretary of State Sam Reed.


Univision Marketing Group of Toronto, Ontario, sits atop the state’s new report, with 86 percent of the nearly $38,000 it raised last year going to four charities.


At the other end of the spectrum is Unique Equity, which does business as Thrift Center. Robert Hansen, president of the Spokane-based charity that benefited from the solicitations, said his organization severed ties with Thrift Center in part because he “had concerns about the fund-raising costs.”


Unique Equity did not return phone calls yesterday.


Still, Hansen and Rebecca Sherrell, charities program manager in the Secretary of State’s Office, distinguished Thrift Center from fund-raising telemarketers. Because it operated stores similar to Value Village, Thrift Center had substantial overhead costs that ate into contributions that it solicited in the name of its charities.


Also, some consumers don’t care that a significant percentage of their donations don’t end up with the charity, Sherrell said.


“You’d be amazed,” she said. “We’ll report to them that 30 percent [of their gift] is going to the cause, and some people are fine with that. … It’s not the state’s role to say, ‘This group gives only 4 percent. You shouldn’t give to them.’


“As long as the potential donor makes an informed decision, that’s our goal.”


Peter Lewis: 206-464-2217 or plewis@seattletimes.com