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Reasons Not to Make Donations Over the Phone

photo(44)The phone rings. It’s 6 at night, and, if your house is anything like mine, you’re making dinner, packing lunches for the next day, feeding a hungry baby, telling the dog not to bark at the cat, and trying to remember what you signed up to bring for the teacher appreciation lunch. It’s not exactly a great time for a phone conversation. So, I don’t answer.

You might not, either. But if you do, and you find you’re speaking to a professional telemarketer fundraiser, consider hanging up. Or, tell your mother (or grandmother) to hang up and not to send a check the next time a fundraising phone call from a stranger comes to her home phone.

Don’t make donations to these companies over the phone.

Nonprofits need donors. Most of them are run by passionate, dedicated people who want to make the world a better place, whether it’s providing shelter for families fleeing domestic violence or training midwives in India. Support well-run nonprofits you know and believe in.

But those groups making the calls? Oftentimes, they’re professional telemarketers who don’t work for the nonprofit. They work for a for-profit corporation. Some of those corporations keep 70-80 cents of every dollar they receive, with a mere pittance trickling through to the nonprofit itself. This article from Bloomberg details the sketchy practices of one large for-profit telemarketing company that kept a reported $5.3 million raised for the American Cancer Society in fiscal year 2010, all dollars that donors likely thought would go to the nonprofit, not to a telemarketing firm.

Yikes.

Charity Navigator has compiled information on several states, and shows that professional solicitors in Massachusetts, for example, sent on just 35 percent of the money raised to charity. And, after crisis and disasters, fraudulent groups claiming to be charities pop up quickly and ask for money over the phone or online, like this group that allegedly diverted funds raised for Sandy relief to pay off credit cards.

When you receive one of those fundraising calls, ask if the caller is a professional solicitor, or an employee or volunteer for the nonprofit (which is a whole different story than the for-profit telemarketing folks). Ask them to send you information in the mail or by email – if they won’t, that’s a flag right there. Do a quick Google search on the charity, and look into the group yourself to make sure it’s one with 501(c)3 (official nonprofit) status and that it’s reputable. You can easily check 501(c)3 status at Guidestar.

If you want to donate to that nonprofit, do so. But send them a check directly, or donate online through a safe and secure method. Make sure you know where your donation is going, so it doesn’t get devoured by a professional telemarketing group before it even makes it to the cause you care about.

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