Editorial: If its pennies to the dollar, find another

Jun. 19, 2013 @ 04:15 PM

We’ve warned before of fraudulent activities to beware of when it comes to donations and our money. Following this week’s report on charities, we’re pleased to share that our state was judged to “set the standard for public disclosure.”

Considering some in our current General Assembly have been grossly misguided with bills that seek to harm the public’s right to know, vigilance of those on Jones Street in Raleigh remains merited when it comes to charitable work as well.

The study, “America’s Worst Charities,” was a yearlong project by the Tampa Bay Times and the California-based Center for Investigative Reporting. CIR is known as the nation’s largest and longest-serving nonprofit newsroom dedicated to watchdog journalism.

The result was a database of who benefits from charities. State and federal records were used for research. What they found, while just plain sad, was not a terribly big surprise.

They found charities lied. They found use of names that look a lot like other charity names that are more well-known, thereby fooling donors. They found charities raising tens of millions, yet showing up millions in debt.

Accounting tricks were documented and nepotism was prevalent in choosing for-profit companies to raise donations. Billions are raised annually, and, often, only pennies to the dollar are sent to those in need.

Why does North Carolina do better than most? The state’s charity website allows anyone to see every document filed by a charity or solicitor, audits, fundraising contracts and telemarketing scripts.

We’re not the best. Six states require charity registration, have a disciplinary database available online and require audits. But we are one of another nearly two dozen that require charities to register, and then either require an audit or have a disciplinary database available online.

Hundreds of charities send our money where we intend. But percentages vary and asking questions before giving donations isn’t rude. Rather, it is good stewardship of that we wish to share.

A good source for checking on charities online is give.org, charitywatch.org, guidestar.org and charitynavigator.org. Worth noting, give.org is aligned with standards of the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance.

The state attorney general’s Consumer Protection Division will handle complaints through the toll free number (877) 5NO-SCAM, also known as (877) 566-7226, and also online at ncdoj.gov.