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Check a Charity from Your Phone

A new mobile app from the state Division of Consumer Affairs allows potential donors to research New Jersey charities via handheld devices.

The state Office of the Attorney General submitted the following news release: 

With a free, new smart phone app, the Division of Consumer Affairs has made it easier than ever to “Investigate Before You Donate” and learn how your favorite charities actually spend the money you give.

The division (on Tuesday, May 29) launched the free “Charity Lookup” application for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. Built without using taxpayer money, the app is designed to help users make better-informed decisions before they donate to charities. The app is updated weekly, with information from the division’s database on the financial records of 26,000 charities and nonprofits registered to solicit in New Jersey.

“Savvy consumers do their research before they make a purchase or an investment–and they should do the same before giving to a charity,” Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa said. “When you look at the numbers you’ll learn some so-called charities dedicate only 10 or 20 cents of each donated dollar to actual charitable programs, and give the rest to fundraisers. Other organizations spend virtually every penny on worthwhile charitable projects. With this app we’ve made it easier than ever to know where your money will go, before you donate.”

Simply type in the full or partial name of a nonprofit, such as by typing the words “New Jersey” to find the New Jersey Hall of Fame. Then click on the organization’s name to find a breakdown of its revenues and expenses, drawn from the organization’s most recent fiscal year report. The app shows the New Jersey Hall of Fame spent a total of $412,000 during its most recent reported fiscal year, 99.8 percent of which went toward actual programs to support its mission, less than 1 percent of which went toward management costs, and none of which was spent on fundraising.

“While the Supreme Court has ruled that states can’t force charities to spend more money on charitable causes than on fundraising or management costs, we owe it to consumers to bring transparency to the ways charities use the donations they receive,” Eric T. Kanefsky, acting director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, said. “This app, like our Charities Registration Hotline, provides an important service. It will help shine a spotlight on the state’s most un-charitable charities, and bring well-deserved recognition to the organizations that put donated dollars to valuable use.”

Director Kanefsky noted that the Better Business Bureau’s Standards for Charity Accountability state a charity should dedicate at least 65 percent of its expenses toward program activities, and no more than 35 percent toward fundraising. When consumers consider donating to a charity, they should compare that guideline with the charity’s actual expenses.

The Charity Lookup app currently is available only for Apple mobile devices, but will eventually be made available for users of the Android and other devices.  It can be downloaded directly. Users can also find it by visiting the Apple App store on their mobile device and searching for “New Jersey Charity Search.”

The Charity Lookup app is the product of a partnership between the State of New Jersey and the New Jersey Information Division of NICUSA, Inc., the official eGovernment partner of the State of New Jersey. The New Jersey Information Division of NICUSA, Inc helps New Jersey government entities web-enable their information services.

The app only provides information about charities that are currently registered with the division. Charities not listed in the app may be exempt from registration, may have had their registration revoked, or may have failed to comply with the law requiring that they register.  For information on charities that don’t appear in a search of the app, consumers may call the Division of Consumer Affairs’ Charities Registration Hotline at 973-504-6215. 

Director Kanefsky noted the “New Jersey Charity Lookup” app is the second free app launched by the Division of Consumer Affairs and NICUSA, Inc. in their effort to make vital marketplace information directly accessible to consumers.

The “New Jersey Professional License” app, launched in June 2011, allows users to access its license and registration database and find information about the approximately 600,000 individuals who provide services to the public, ranging from health care practitioners to home improvement contractors.  

Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of consumer abuse, can file a complaint with the State Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website, or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504-6200.

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