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Some nonprofits slam Cuomo charity report

At least one nonprofit that received slim returns from telemarketers that solicited funds for it argued Tuesday that the New York attorney general's report about the practice, issued Monday, doesn't present a full picture.

A telemarketer for the Children's Leukemia Research Association raised more than $1.3 million for the Garden City-based cancer charity last year, but only about $300,000 actually went to the association.

The charity's executive director, Allan Weinberg, defended the practice, saying that using telemarketers enables the group to build a base of donors that will ultimately pay off. "We've been very, very happy, and we've raised a lot of money," Weinberg said.

He compared the cost of telemarketing to the cost of other charity fundraising events. "Why is telemarketing different than a dinner or a special event, a golf tournament?" Weinberg asked. "Everything has a cost."

But there is a difference, according to Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's office.

"When you hold an event, the donor knows there's going to be some sort of benefit in return and can take that into account," an office spokesman said. "With telemarketers, it's very difficult for them to determine how much is actually going to make it to the charity."

The attorney general's annual report, Pennies for Charity, found that Long Island nonprofits that used professional solicitors for 49 campaigns in 2008 received an average of 24.57 cents per dollar raised. The rest went to the solicitors.

Across the state, charities using telemarketers received an average of 39.5 cents per dollar, the report found.

Patrice Frank, president of the Association of Fundraising Professionals Long Island Chapter, said relying on telemarketers to get new donors and raise funds is not a best practice in the field. "You're not developing relationships with donors - your telemarketing firm is," she said. Still, "20 percent of something is better than zero percent of nothing. I can't judge."

Jerome Higgins, chairman of the Long Island Coalition for Life in Ronkonkoma, which got 65 percent of the funds raised by a telemarketer last year, said he understands public anger toward high telemarketing fees. "I would be upset knowing that a dime is going to the organization, and 90 cents is going to the telemarketer," he said.

Five campaigns in the report netted less than 10 cents on the dollar to their charities. "If I found out, I would not give to that organization again," Higgins said.

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