Charities feel a pinch from fund-raisers

Five Jewish agencies are among 420 California charities that hired commercial fund-raisers in 2001 to solicit donations on their behalf, according to a new state report.

That arrangement often came at a huge cost, according to information issued this week by state Attorney General Bill Lockyer.

Chabad of San Francisco — Project Pride received only 9.89 percent of the money donated, or $45,055 of the $455,331 raised by the Daily Planet Corp. in 2001, according to the study.

"I was obviously being ripped off," asserted Chabad's Rabbi Yosef Langer on Wednesday. He said he hired Daily Planet Corp. — a now-defunct South Bay firm — to raise money on behalf of a drug and alcohol education program he runs that also helps find missing people.

"I realized I made a mistake in getting involved [with] them," Langer said, noting that he severed involvement with Daily Planet almost a year ago.

Connie Hamrah, a principal at Daily Planet, countered that, "We did what we were committed to do."

"These are donations less expenses," she said. "It takes somebody to do the work. Our product costs are very high."

Hamrah said the firm that she and her husband, Paul, ran closed "voluntarily" last July.

Statewide, the study found that private fund-raisers turned over less than 40 percent of the $281.9 million they raised in 2001. And more than a quarter of the charities got just 15 percent or less of the donations raised.

Among the Jewish nonprofits listed, United Jewish Communities apparently had the best record. Of the $1.44 million raised on its behalf by a private firm in 2001, it received 97.01 percent of the money.

The Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith received 39.23 percent, or $28,226 of the $71,955 raised by Facter Direct, Ltd., according to the report.

Jonathan Bernstein, regional director of the ADL, said that effort was handled by the organization's national headquarters in New York.

Though unfamiliar with the specifics of the campaign, Bernstein said that the use of commercial fund-raisers is "a very common practice in the nonprofit world.

"This is one way that a lot of nonprofits raise a lot of new money," he said. "You can't just sit back and wait for the money to arrive. It costs money to get new donors."

Those contributions often wouldn't be made otherwise, Bernstein said, and can lead to additional and larger gifts down the road.

Local representatives of two other Jewish agencies on the list — Hillel and B'nai B'rith — also said any use of commercial fund-raisers was done out of their national headquarters.

According to the report, Hillel got $9,382, or 21.02 percent, of the $44,625 raised by a private firm in 2001. B'nai B'rith got 55.48 percent, or $22,068 of the $39,773 raised.

A Hillel spokesman in Washington, D.C., said the telemarketing campaign was stopped after officials were disappointed with the return.

Paul Cohen, a senior consultant to eight Hillel programs in Northern California, said the most commonly used fund-raising technique locally is a "Hillel-athon," in which students or board members call potential donors for money. Those efforts are run by volunteers, he said.

Overall, Lockyer's study found that private fund-raisers turned over 38.03 percent of the contributions they raised to the charities in 2001.

"There's nothing illegal" about such rates of return, said Tom Dresslar, a spokesman for Lockyer.

The report is released on an annual basis. "It just provides charities and donors [with] some idea of how efficient some commercial fund-raising operations are. Our goal is to put the information out there so donors and charities can make more informed decisions."

Details of the study are available online at charities/publications/2001cf/


There are some 85,000 charities registered in the state, and most do their own fund-raising, according to Lockyer's office.

Monday's release of the report came just a day before Lockyer announced a joint project aimed at fighting philanthropic fraud.

As part of a 33-state campaign called Operation Phoney Philanthropy, Lockyer suggested tips to help donors avoid being cheated.

Among the recommendations were:

*Get as much information as possible about the solicitor and charity. Registration and financial reports are on the attorney general's Web site —

*Be cautious about impressive-sounding names or organizations with names closely resembling well-known agencies.

*Never give cash or a credit card number to a solictor. Checks should be payable to the charity and not the solictor.

*Ask how much of the donation goes to the charity. Solicitors are required by law to divulge this information. Solictors also must inform donors if they are paid.

*Make calls to verify claims that a charity supports local groups.

At Chabad, Langer questioned the figures listed in the attorney general's report, saying he was receiving about $1,000 monthly from Daily Planet and the totals may cover the three-year association he had.

"I feel very bad for the public being duped," said Langer, saying he felt like "a pawn."

Responded Hamrah, "I feel very badly that he feels duped. You can turn it around and say we feel the same way."

Langer said Daily Planet sold coupon books on a door-to-door basis for Project Pride. Daily Planet also distributed flyers about missing children and was supposed to perform community service work, he said.

"Before I get involved with a commercial fund-raiser again, I'm going to think twice and investigate thoroughly," said Langer.