Fund drives nearly double

By Todd Cohen

The Sept. 11 attacks apparently triggered a surge in charitable giving in North Carolina, with charities raising a lot more money through fund drives, and professional solicitors pocketing a lot more in fees.

Charity drives in North Carolina raised $126 million in the fiscal year ended June 30, 2002, up from $66 million a year earlier, says a new report by the state Secretary of State’s Office, which regulates and tracks charitable solicitation.

Of the total raised, professional solicitors kept nearly $72 million, or more than 56 cents of every dollar contributed, says the report.

While solicitors kept three fewer cents for every dollar contributed than they did in the previous fiscal year, ended June 30, 2001, they pocketed nearly $32 million more.

In the fiscal years ended June 30, 1998, 1999 and 2000, by comparison, charity drives in the state raised $57.9 million, $76.5 million and $75.5 million, respectively.

Of every dollar contributed to fund drives in those three years, respectively, solicitors kept 62 cents, 59 cents and 47 cents.

The share of dollars that solicitors kept from funds they helped raise in the most recent fiscal year ranged from 100 percent for some charities to zero for others, the report says.

In the year ended June 30, 2002, the report says, the Secretary of State’s Office conducted 49 investigations of alleged violations of the state law that regulates the licensing of charitable solicitation.

Nine of those investigations found violations, and civil penalties were assessed in two of those cases, says Liz Proctor, a department spokesman.

The other investigations are ongoing, the report says.

The Greensboro-based North Carolina Coalition of Police was fined $1,000 for sending a letter to a Winston-Salem couple “reminding” them that they had pledged $35 and asking them to send a check to the group – even though the couple had not made such a pledge, Proctor says.

Coalition officials did not return a phone call.

Gull Rock Services in Ashland, Ore., was issued a cease-and-desist order and fined $2,000 for soliciting funds for the North Carolina Wildlife Federation without being licensed in the state, and then had its license suspended and revoked because it failed to pay the fine, Proctor says.

Mike Corcoran, owner of Gull Rock Services and a former executive director of the North Carolina Wildlife Federation, did not return a phone call.

Lisa West, the Wildlife Federation’s operations manager, says Gull Rock assisted the federation on direct-mail campaigns from November 1999 until November 2000, when the federation contacted the Secretary of State’s Office to renew its solicitation license and learned that Gull Rock did not have a license.

Under state law, the Secretary of State’s Office licenses charities that use professional solicitors or fundraising firms or raise more than $25,000, although groups such as religious groups, volunteer fire departments and educational institutions are exempt from the law.

The Secretary of State’s Office also licenses professional solicitors and fundraising firms used in charity drives.

The Secretary of State’s Office says in a statement that people should not “automatically condemn a charity and its professional solicitor” if the state’s annual solicitation report shows the charity’s drive netted a low percentage of the dollars raised.

“Some charities use more than one solicitor, or raise funds on their own in addition to whatever amount they get through a professional,” Secretary of State Elaine Marshall says in a statement.

Fundraising expenses, she says, can include awareness-building campaigns that some charities undertake as part of their fundraising.

She says donors should examine a charity’s performance, including its fundraising, spending and accomplishments – and can find contact information for charities and fundraising and solicitation firms in the annual charitable-solicitation report that her office compiles.

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