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The Best of the Worst

Records released this week from the California state attorney general’s office show that many charities are awful at collecting the money for-profit fundraisers raise for them. Veterans groups and police and firefighter associations often see about 10-20 percent of the money that telemarketers and direct mail solicitations gather on their behalf.

Some charities, however, have slightly less scandalous relationships with commercial firms. A lot of them are arts-oriented groups — museums, theaters, and symphony halls. The Carnegie Hall Society, for example, sees 77 percent of the money commercial fundraisers generate for them. That number is 80 percent for the American Film Institute and a respectable 64 percent for the Chicago Field Museum.

Why is this? Daniel Borochoff, president of the watchdog American Philanthropy Institute, explains that the number of people inclined to donate to the arts is much smaller than other charities. But the people who do give often give a lot. A few donors giving, say, $200 enables for more targeted fundraising campaigns than a bunch of people giving $20.

But as Borochoff points out, it’s not like all rich people love the arts but don’t care about veterans and firefighters. Some successful veterans groups have wisely targeted their fundraising to a pool of wealthy, committed donors. By doing this the donors become invested in the charity, holding it more accountable.

If you’re a charity not interested in accountability, though, picking off a bunch of small donations through the phone and mail is probably the best way to go.

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