GELFAND’S WORLD-The voice on the other end of the line introduced himself as calling on behalf of the LA County Fraternal Order of Police. Maybe they actually exist. I don't know. I was being invited to make a contribution to help the families of police officers killed in the line of duty. That by itself was a bit strange, because if you live in the big city, you will most likely have been told that the real police and the real fire department never make unsolicited calls asking for money. So in all innocence (well, some, anyway) I asked the gentleman what police department he worked for. At this point, he explained that he was not a law enforcement officer at all, but worked for a fundraising company.
In another call, I was asked to contribute so some charity can provide gift baskets to hospitalized children. The fundraiser rather insensitively tossed the word leukemia around a lot.
What was odd about those calls was that I next got a seemingly honest answer to a particular question I asked: What percentage of the money would actually go to the sick children or the families of the slain officers?
I mean, it's an important question, isn't it? If the fundraisers are raking a quarter or a third of the money off the top, then there is a lot less remaining for the widows, not to mention the children undergoing chemo.
So take a guess what you think the payout is to the charity recipients, and maybe close your eyes and think about it a moment before reading the next couple of lines.
Yesterday's fundraiser explained that his company was contractually obligated to pay at least ten percent to the charity. Even I can do the math here. That means that for every dollar you contribute, the fundraising organization can legally keep ninety cents. For every buck you give, the widow gets a dime.
It gets worse though. Apparently in recent years, some fundraising organizations just lied about the amount of overhead they were charging. In an article on the Bloomberg website authored by David M. Evans, it is revealed that a major telemarketing company called the Infocision Management Corp had its telephone operators telling people that charities such as the American Cancer Society would be getting a substantial fraction of all the funds collected. In fact, for the year 2010, Infocision raised $5.3 million for the ACS, and not one penny went to the charity. Infocision kept it all.
Infocision used scripts approved by the ACS that instructed operators, if asked, to claim that the charity got at least 70 percent of the money collected. That's only off by 70 percent.
The Bloomberg story was later circulated by the Huffington Post, which supplies a graphical picture of how much overhead is taken in 2010 from donations for five major sickness charities. Overhead charges ranged from 57% (the March of Dimes) to 102% (the American Cancer Society).
At least my telemarketers gave me what was ostensibly honest data. The person who called about the gift baskets for leukemic children was in the same ballpark, around 15 percent going to the charity.
One logical approach to this kind of abuse was delivered by Jay Hancock in a 2010 op ed in the Baltimore Sun: "Just hang up on charity phone solicitations." Hancock points out that the law is confused on telemarketing claims. Solicitors who lie about the overhead (and their companies) can be charged with fraud, but there is no law requiring the operator to volunteer the information.
That's why, on the occasions that I get these calls, I eventually ask how much of my ten dollars goes to the kids. For some reason, these operators seem to understand that a direct question like that has to be answered, and they could get into trouble by lying. They usually hang up shortly after.
There is one other bit of advice. Telephone solicitors will often ask for credit card information in order to take your donation. Never give your credit card number to somebody who called you out of the blue.
Never, never, never, never, never. Just don't do it.
If your bank has to get in touch with you about suspicious card action, you can say thank you, get the real number off the back of your credit card or out of the telephone book, and call them back. Don't accept the call-back number they give you. Look it up yourself.
(Bob Gelfand writes on cultue and politics for City Watch. He can be reached at email@example.com)
Vol 13 Issue 64
Pub: Aug 7, 2015