Give to good causes, but not via telemarketers

What would charitable organizations and other non-profits do without the holiday season? Many groups bring in more donations during December than during any other month of the year. Without holiday giving, meeting basic expenses would be a challenge. If you get a mailing from a group you support, I encourage you to give what you can afford.

Responding to telephone solicitations isn’t such a good idea, as Lee Rood reported in the Sunday Des Moines Register:

The Register’s examination of more than 80 professional fundraisers serving more than 500 charities – often for little-known nonprofits but sometimes for well-known charities – also shows:

– The median percentage of proceeds that wind up with a charity is about 24 percent, according to reports to Iowa’s attorney general by fundraisers that made disclosures in 2007. Just five charities received more than 75 percent of the proceeds from fundraising campaigns.

– One fundraiser, Aria Communications, reported charging nonprofits more than the company raised last year.

– Most for-profit fundraisers do not disclose how much money is given to a charity after they take their cut for fees and expenses. Although Iowa law requires such disclosure, companies fail to report the actual costs of telemarketing or direct-mail efforts and the amounts given to the charities in about four out of five cases.

– About a half-dozen fundraising companies continue to do business in Iowa even though they have been subject to cease-and-desist orders, hefty fines and multiple court actions for breaking solicitation rules or financial disclosure laws, or for deceiving would-be donors. (See related article on this page.)

– Many of the charities that benefit from the fundraising are poorly rated by watchdog groups or give a tiny fraction to the individuals or groups that solicitors claim donations will benefit.

The whole article and related sidebar are worth reading. If you want to support a group, find the organization’s address on the web or in the phone book and mail a check. That way your full donation will go to a good cause, instead of paying mostly for telemarketer fees.

Speaking of telemarketers, a funny story appeared in the Register a few days ago:

Gov. Chet Culver told Iowa school administrators a story on Monday about an experience he had with the New York Times early in his political career.

Culver, who ran for Iowa secretary of state in 1998, said shortly after he announced his candidacy, he received a telephone call from Bob Smith with the New York Times.

Culver said he was surprised a reporter from the newspaper was calling him when he hadn’t yet done an interview with The Des Moines Register or other media outlets in the state.

Culver said he asked Smith if he could call him back, and the man said yes. The governor said he was relieved because it would give him more time to prepare for an interview. He asked Smith what he wanted to talk to him about.

“This is regarding your Sunday subscription to the New York Times,” Smith told him.

UPDATE: Here’s a link to the Charity Navigator website in case you want to look up a group before you donate.

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