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What is That Charity Doing with Your Money?



November 03, 2013 – Comments (9)

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:

Contributions:  $1,838,725

Management:  $342,554

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 -   

All other websites can be found by Googling Tennessee Police Federation. 

9 Comments – Post Your Own

#1) On November 03, 2013 at 8:05 PM, Mary953 (85.34) wrote:

Those of you that know anything about me from previous posts already know that I live in Tennessee.  While I have not checked other states, it seems highly likely that your state has its own charitable giving legislation and oversight committee.  Our site has an incredibly poor search engine (hence the comparison with Knox Area Rescue Ministries - I knew the probable official name.)  I found that the figures for St. Jude's Children's Hospital were even more impressive, but I had to go to the St. Jude's site as I could not figure out the proper punctuation/name to use the TN site.  And yes, St. Jude's, located in Memphis, TN, should be there.

St. Jude's has been at the top of my list for decades.  They not only use the money well, they find cures for cancer! 

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#2) On November 04, 2013 at 4:34 PM, drgroup (67.04) wrote:

Nice work !! But I just don't like any structured charities. I give directley to those in need.

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#3) On November 04, 2013 at 7:50 PM, BJRCollins (< 20) wrote:

My granfather spent years "structuring" the Boys (& Girls) Clubs of America. He put a generation through the Depression starting businesses.

His reputation was that he was a man who - while never promsing a Google split - you knew if you gave him your money or your child, you would get back exactly what you gave. Always more, but never admitted. 

I know he paid dividends, but even up to the 9th month of his 99 years, he would not admit it. 

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#4) On November 04, 2013 at 8:25 PM, Mary953 (85.34) wrote:

Drgroup, can I assume you are in a medical profession?  If so, you have/had the opportunity to see and meet a true need that the rest of us don't.  BJR, the same goes for your grandfather.  This is the best sort of charity to my mind, that of engaging your skill, your talent and knowledge, and your heart in helping where others cannot.  The best form of charity is the one that engages your heart.

My police officer son-in-law does not make enough for charitable giving of the monetary variety (that I know of,) but if you are ever stuck on a mountainside or in a cave, you will meet him leading the rescue squad that saves your life.  His EMT training saved the SWAT member next to him in a recent shoot-out.  For that matter, his all-volunteer unit goes to any disaster within 300 miles.  When I was at the "more month than money" stage of life, I volunteered so much of my time at the school, that new teachers thought I was on staff.  My kids tell me that 'mothering' is my gift so it was the best way I could give to others.  It was also sheer joy to be "paid in hugs."


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#5) On November 04, 2013 at 10:47 PM, rd80 (94.59) wrote:

Excellent topic!

Charity Navigator is a good source for checking up on charities.

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#6) On November 05, 2013 at 12:09 AM, Mary953 (85.34) wrote:

RD, Thanks for this.  I tried the Charity Navigator (appreciate the link) and the search engine is so much easier to use.  I tried a couple of deliberate misspellings, a local annual event for cancer,  and an acronym to see what came up.  Only the local event stumped the search engine.  I suspect that I would have found it under American Cancer Society events.  I have bookmarked the site for future reference.  Mary

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#7) On November 05, 2013 at 2:23 PM, rfaramir (28.66) wrote: and help for finding about Christian ministries financial state.

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#8) On November 07, 2013 at 12:35 PM, griderX (97.12) wrote:

Another good website to checkout charaties is above...they provide some pretty good informaiton, such as Program Expenses (Percent of the charity’s budget spent on the programs and services it exists to deliver).  Genrally any ranking above 80% is exceptional!  

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#9) On November 07, 2013 at 7:48 PM, Mary953 (85.34) wrote:

Thanks guys.  I am making up a list in my bookmarks that includes charities I like (or dislike) and, thanks to you, websites that will help me check them out easily.  

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