State officials warn residents to give wisely

December 16, 1998|By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

State officials warn residents to give wisely

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Giving to charity helps many people get in the holiday spirit.

But holiday cheer shouldn't make you careless in your giving, warned Maryland Secretary of State John T. Willis on Tuesday during a stop in Hagerstown on his annual campaign to promote wise giving.

The campaign has become a holiday season tradition because it's the time of year when 30 percent to 40 percent of charitable giving takes place, Willis said.

Marylanders donate an estimated $3 billion a year to charity, he said.

The rise in giving during the holiday season isn't motivated purely by good will, Willis said.

For the 38 percent of Maryland residents who itemize on their income taxes, a holiday season donation can provide the write-off they need to slip in before the end of the year, he said.


Those making contributions, especially large ones, should beware of who they're giving the money to and how it will be used, he said.

This year, it's even easier to get the information you need to make an informed decision through the Charitable Organizations Division, Willis said.

"Our database is getting better and better all the time," said Willis, who said technology has improved his office's capabilities since his first campaign four years ago.

With a call to the office or a visit to the Web site, you can get a wealth of information on charitable giving, including basic financial information about roughly 4,200 charities that solicit contributions in Maryland, he said.

The Web site is accessible through the Office of the Secretary of State's home page at

You can search by a charity's name, city, county or a key word to bring up a listing containing information.

Each listing includes the charity's full address, purpose, whether it uses a paid fund-raiser, its total income, how much of that comes from charitable contributions, how much goes toward charitable programs, how much is spent on fund raising and how much is spent on management and general expenses.

The state doesn't have the authority to disallow a charity from operating simply because it's inefficient, Willis said.

What it can do is provide that information to prospective givers, he said.

The goal isn't to discourage giving but to encourage wise giving, Willis said.

"The vast majority of organizations are pretty good," he said.

About 85 percent of the charities registered with his office spend less than 30 percent on fund raising, management and general expense, Willis said.

Many of those organizations spend no more than 25 percent on expenses other than charitable programs, he said.

You can call the office with questions, complaints and to request information. The phone number is 800-825-4510.

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