Listen carefully if and when a telemarketer from a charity calls asking for money during the holidays.
Oregon Attorney General Hardy Myers recently published his annual report on charitable organizations that names 24 Rogue-like national charities that solicit money locally.
The report's main criticism: Many spend too much money on fundraising and management and not enough on program beneficiaries.
"When you look at the amount they actually spend on kids' wishes, it's minimal," says AG spokeswoman Victoria Cox. "Some of them even spend more on their executives' salaries."
Myers' report profiles groups that telemarket in Oregon and that have received a thumbs-down from at least two of three national charity watchdogs.
One egregious example in the report: the Baltimore-based American Breast Cancer Foundation.
The foundation says it provides free mammograms for women who can't afford them. But the report says the group spends only 9 percent of the money it raises on its actual program. About 42 percent is spent on fundraising costs—like those pesky telemarketers.
According to the Better Business Bureau, one of the three groups that rated the charities, at least 65 percent of a charitable organization's funds must be directed to program expenses in order for the bureau to rank the group as "acceptable."
"If you think about the fact that some of these charities have revenues from $8 [million] to $10 million, that's a lot of money that could go to a good cause," says Cox. "If it's being [diverted], we want to make people aware of that."
The National Caregiving Foundation, based in Alexandria, Va., directs slightly more than 50 percent of its revenues to fundraising and only 10 percent of its funds toward the medical scholarships it provides.
Then there's the Wishing Well Foundation. The Metairie, La.-based charity says it grants wishes to terminally ill children. According to its most recent tax information, however, it devotes more than 82 percent of its money to fundraising and all of 4.4 percent on "wish fulfillment" for kids.
Messages left with the American Breast Cancer Foundation, National Caregiving Foundation and Wishing Well Foundation were not returned.
In comparison, Myers' report includes a few highly rated charities that are doing things right. The American Kidney Fund in Rockville, Md., spends just 4 percent on fundraising—and 94 percent on costs related to its program, which gives financial aid to people with kidney disease.
And Save the Children directs 91 percent of its funds toward helping underprivileged kids.
While these aren't the only reputable charities soliciting donations this time of year, the AG's office says donors should thoroughly research an organization before giving money—no matter how good it may sound on the phone.
"It really does behoove the contributor to do a little research and find out what the organization does," says Cox. "People need to be very careful about giving money."
And with the holiday giving season entering full swing, expect plenty of calls from telemarketers shilling a "good" cause.
To see the complete list of Rogue-ish charities, go to www.doj.state.or.us.
To give to any of 37 local charities
knows are worthy of your cash, go to giveguide.wweek.com.