What is That Charity Doing with Your Money?
It is November. If you are not already receiving letters and phone calls requesting funds for charities, you soon will. There are more truly good causes than anyone has money to fund, so how do you decide? This is a case study. Sadly, I could choose any of a number of charities. This one angered me because our family includes a police officer. Somehow, that makes what follows just that much worse.
I received a call from the Tennessee Police Federation some time back. According to the telemarketer, all of my donation would go to buy bullet proof vests. "Could they count on me for a donation?" No, but they could send me their information so that I could research and make an informed decision. "They needed a donation of at least $10 to send me that information." (Strike one) I offered the following. They could send the information with no strings attached and I would return a $10 donation ONLY IF the charity checked out.
I received a bill for $10 fairly quickly, followed by a "Reminder" not long afterward. Not what I agreed to. (Strike two) The bill and reminder were enough to cause me to begin investigating. I am not happy with what I found. The stated objectives of the TPF are to buy bullet proof vests for police officers, to endorse public safety laws, to enhance the quality of professional TN law enforcement, and to recognize the achievements of law enforcement officers. Of these, only the bullet proof vests are "tangible" benefits and the literature changed the language from buying vests to helping provide funds for vests. Not good. If the telemarketer had read these objectives, he could have kept his literature. "Soft objectives" of this nature are not sufficient to gain my support. However since I had the information, I continued with the investigation.
There is no need to chase all the leads I found, but here are the results -
There were many angry comments on the web concerning this charity. They will not remove your number from their calling list even when asked repeatedly. The callers become abusive toward those who are unwilling to "give" when asked. (I do not consider this type of badgering to be giving. Extortion perhaps, but not giving.) People who refused to make donation pledges received bills for pledges that were not agreed to. Despite telemarketers claiming to be police officers, this organization does employ a fundraising LLC. I asked this specifically. There is no record of any staff at this 'charity' other than the person that auto-signs the information that goes out. Sadly, this person is a judge in a TN community. The TPF is not a member of BBB. Each of these pieces of information come from different web addresses. The overall picture is not a good one.
The state of Tennessee Secretary of State has a Division of Charitable Solicitations and Gaming which keeps records of all federally authorized charities operating in Tennessee. The statements of years 2006 through 2011 show the following:
Fundraising: $1,271,499 (not including special fundraising events)
Programs and Services (the portion that actually goes to the charitable aims stated): $288,393 of which $259,048 was given in one year. The total given over the other FIVE years - $29,345
*I have not included 2012 because imho, the data is suspect. In 2012, the "charity" took in $393,747 and spent $387,726 on programs - no fundraising, no management, no special events. This seems so far outside the record of the charity, that I cannot believe it.
Further, the address on the literature is not even in the same part of the state as the PO Box listed as the official Sec of State documentation. (Strike Three, and a Triple Play)
By contrast, Knox Area Rescue Ministries gives approximately 80% per year to programs and services ranging from homeless shelters and job training to shelters for abused families and food pantries. I will soon be receiving a request for a donation to KARM, to St Jude's Children's Hospital, to Shrine Children's Hospitals, and other organizations. I will be giving to all.
Feel free to add your own guidelines to my own listed here:
Be wary of Any charitable organization that contacts you by phone and/or refuses to send information for evaluation.
Choose those things that you feel strongly about, identify legitimate organizations, and give your charitable funds to those.
Know where to "break the rules." Your child's schoolroom may need supplies, a person or family that you know may need help due to a difficult situation, natural disasters may move you to help (through 'real' charities rather than scammers)...You will know how to apply this. Follow your heart.
If you cannot donate funds, consider what you can spare - items from your home that can be repurposed are a good example. Another excellent no-cost way to help is to post on the Motley Fool during the month of December. Each post provides a bit more money toward a good cause. Be creative.
No amount of money can replace hands-on volunteering. The possibilities for helping are as limitless as your imagination and the joy of volunteering is simply amazing! (Mr. Buffett, Mr. Gates, this does not necessarily include you. ;-) )
United Way and your church are options for letting someone else decide how your charitable dollars are spent and where they go. If you wish to go this route, make it a conscious decision rather than a default.
Last, you may plan to give to your church, but keep in mind that if you are a member of a church, you have a responsibility to help keep the utilities paid and the building from falling down in disrepair. Separate your responsibilities to your church from your charitable giving. It is not the same thing.
The good people on the Motley Fool site spend a lot of time trying to responsibly grow their funds. Don't we owe it to ourselves to be just as responsible in choosing whether or how to give to charity, and to hold those charities accountable?
Have a good holiday season,
Oh, yes, for those who wish to check my figures - http://tnsos.org/charitable/CharitableOrgReports.php
All other websites can be found by Googling Tennessee Police Federation.