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Published: Tuesday, 7/24/2001

The `Fast-Buck Express'

Attorney General Betty Montgomery has done Ohioans a useful public service with her report detailing how professional solicitors end up pocketing most of the money people think they're giving to charitable causes.

The attorney general found that more than $90 million was raised last year in Ohio for charities by professional solicitors, but just 37 percent of the money donated went to the cause for which it was solicited. Put another way, 63 percent of the money went to the solicitor. Some of the 493 campaigns staged did better, but the return for the average charity was just 28 cents on the dollar.

Not all charities use professional fund-raisers, of course, but those that do could be hurting their causes in the long run.

How many of the donors who gave a total of $29,031 to a Toledo Museum of Art campaign a year ago will respond favorably to future pleas for money when they learn that the museum netted a paltry $254 from the drive? That's a return of less than 9/10 of one percent, and that's a scandal.

People solicited for a charitable cause have a right to expect that a large percentage of the donation go to the cause, not the outfit raising the money. The Better Business Bureau says it ought to be at least 65 percent, although 80 percent sounds more reasonable.

The attorney general's report is doubly useful in that it highlights the fact that Ohio law is weak, only requiring professional solicitors to divulge how much of a donation will go to charity if they're asked. Ms. Montgomery says a potential donor should be prepared to ask the question. Better yet, the attorney general should ask the General Assembly to change the law so solicitors would have to offer that information up front.

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