Each year, the Washington State Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division (AGO) and the Office of Secretary of State’s Charities Program (OSOS) reach out to grocery store managers across the state to provide important information about charitable solicitors.
Increasingly, solicitors are asking for donations outside of retail establishments and will often set up a table at an entrance or exit of a store. They ask patrons for small cash, check, debit, or credit card donations, purportedly for various causes, such as helping sick or disabled children, animals, battered women, the homeless, veterans, or to support well-known charitable organizations.
The AGO and OSOS have reason to believe that some solicitors may be pocketing most of the money they collect instead of using it for the stated charitable purpose. If this is true, the solicitors are not only breaking the law, but also breaking the trust of donors and taking money away from legitimate charities.
With some exceptions, most organizations that raise funds from the public need to register with the OSOS program. Please be aware that registration with the OSOS is not an endorsement of the solicitor or the charity, and it is not an assurance that the solicitor is complying with the law. Also note that registration as a nonprofit corporation is not the same as registration as a charity or fundraiser.
Some of these storefront fundraisers engage in the following unlawful conduct:
- Lying about being a volunteer for the charity – Many solicitors are paid to raise funds on behalf of the charity. However, they may tell donors that they are volunteering in order to collect more donations.
- Lying about where the money goes – Solicitors may tell people that donations are being used to help sick children or animals, or to support other, more established organizations, when in fact most of the donations are used to pay the solicitor’s operating expenses and salaries.
- Lying about how much money goes to charitable purpose – Solicitors may tell potential donors that 50, 75, 100 percent of each donation goes towards their charitable cause, even tough this is far from true.
- Failing to disclose state registration – Solicitors must state, in writing, in all fundraising materials that their charity is registered with the OSOS. They must also provide contact information for the Charities Program so that consumers can request more information about the charity.
To avoid potentially fraudulent solicitors in front of a store, some questions to ask are:
- Is the charity registered with the OSOS Charities Program? You can search registered charities using the OSOS Corporations and Charities Filing System.
- How long has the charity been operating?
- Do the charity’s solicitation materials clearly provide contact information for the OSOS Charities Program?
- Is the charity collecting contributions for its organization or another organization? If so, contact the organization to find out whether it has given the charity written permission to solicit on its behalf.
- Does it have more than just a single brochure or business card? Can the charity provide you with more information about its composition and operation?
To avoid giving to a potentially fraudulent charity, do your research thoroughly and make sure to know who you are giving to. Find more information on how to be mindful when giving to charity at: https://www.sos.wa.gov/charities/givesmart.aspx
If you’ve had an interaction with a potentially fraudulent charitable solicitor, please report it to the Attorney General’s Office.