Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller plans to ask lawmakers to impose new public disclosure requirements for charities that operate in the state. “That the charities in Iowa register and also disclose how much they raised and what percentage of that they used for the charitable purpose as opposed to fundraising and related activities,” Miller says.

 “I think that’s really important to how much of the money they give is going to the charitable purpose.” Miller has pushed legislators in past years to enact similar rules for charities, but Iowa lawmakers have balked at the idea.

“Iowa’s one of the few states that doesn’t have something like that. About 40 states have some form of registration,” Miller says. “We’re behind the rest of the states.” Miller proposes charities pay a fee to the state to register. Eric Tabor, one of Miller’s deputies, says the fee wouldn’t be used to prosecute charities. Instead, it would be used to maintain an on-line database about charities which the public could access.

“Kansas for example, has a very, very user-friendly (website) where you just pick out a charity and see what percentage of their revenues go to fundraising, how much actually goes to the charitable purpose,” Tabor says. “A little different, additional purpose of this legislation.”

The American Institute of Philanthropy offers a rating guide to nationally-known charities. According to the Better Business Bureau, “good” charities will use 80 cents or more of every dollar you donate to their charitable purpose, while some “bad” charities will use the majority of your donation on administrative costs. The Better Business Bureau’s advice: “be careful to donate to a good charity, not just to a good cause.”