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34 percent of monetary donations went to charities, report suggests

A ban on plastic bags and polystyrene containers went into effect Sunday in Brookline due to concern for the environmental impact of these products. The ban affects approximately 70 businesses and 35 food service establishments. PHOTO BY MAYA DEVEREAUX/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

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With the holiday season in full swing, Mass. Attorney Gen. Martha Coakley warned residents to be careful to whom they donate money after a Wednesday report was released stating that in 2012, 34 percent of donated money for charities that hired solicitors actually went to the intended goal.

It is the lowest percentage of money to get to the charities in Massachusetts in more than 7 years, according to Coakley’s Report on Professional Solicitations for Charities.

“As always, we encourage donors to give generously to the Massachusetts charities that benefit those in need,” Coakley said in a Wednesday release. “However, we also advise that potential donors do some basic research to ensure that their donations are going to a worthy cause. During this holiday season, make sure you know where your donation is going, what it will be used for, and how much will ultimately benefit the charity whose mission you support.”

More than $260 million was donated to charities who hire professional solicitors to gather donations in 2012. Of that, just more than $90 million went to the actual charities, according to the report.

Before 2012, Massachusetts had been on an upward trend of donations. From 2007 to 2011, both total donations to charity and the actual received dollars had been consistently increasing, with 2011 at 49 percent marking the highest point going to the actual charity since before 2005, according to the report.

However, not all charities hire solicitors to help collect donations, so their data is not included in the report.

There is no state law mandating a minimum amount to go from solicitors to charities, and the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled it would be unconstitutional to enact such a law because solicitation falls under the category free speech and to restrict it would violate the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The report comes amid of a similar report from Nov. 6 showing even less money—20 percent—got to veteran-related charities on average in 2012.

Several residents said they were surprised the percentage that got to charities was as low as it was, but they still expected much of their money not to go directly to the intended destination.

“I’ve worked at nonprofits before, and it’s a funny thing how little of the money actually goes to anyone who deserves it,” said Nick Accardo, 31, of Chinatown. “A lot of people just donate money to feel good about themselves without looking where it actually goes, and it lets a lot of the higher ups [in charities] make a more than they should. If you want to help, the only way to guarantee it’s done right is also the most efficient. Go out and physically help someone.”

James Lahens, 28, a paralegal living in Fenway, said expecting a small percentage of his donations to go where he wants has turned him away from charitable giving in most cases.

“I want to help, and I really do try to be helpful to [underprivileged] people during the holiday season, but I’m just too worried about giving money,” he said. “34 percent is a problem. It’s too inefficient. I’m from Haiti, so I know what the good charities can do and what it looks like when they aren’t around to help, but it feels almost like I’m wasting my donations giving cash here. I really have to be careful to make sure I or the people I donate to don’t get cheated.”

Carlen Lopez, 37, an employee at Bloomingdale’s from the South End, said there are good charities and that it is up to the individual to make sure a donation is handled correctly.

“You have to expect there will be organizations who won’t do it [collect money] in the best way,” she said. “Of course, the number [for 2012] is way too low, but I wouldn’t have guessed more than 50 percent of money gets to the right place anyway just because of those who do it terribly. There are really good ones though, so you have figure it out for yourself. You have to do the research. You can’t just give blindly and hope it magically does good.”

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