Monday, June 17, 2013

Tampa Bay Times Investigation: Did You Know 14 Of America's 50 Worst Charities Are Police And Firefighter Charities?

During the past year, the Tampa Bay Times has collaborated with the California-based Center for Investigative Reporting, the nation's largest and longest serving nonprofit newsroom dedicated to watchdog journalism, to determine how many of the estimated 1.6 million tax-exempt organizations function honestly. Finding that the sheer number was too large to permit a close examination of all, they instead chose to narrow the pool to the 5,800 charities nationwide that report paying professional solicitation companies to raise donations. They focused on these charities because relying heavily on for-profit fundraisers is one of the most inefficient ways to collect donations. Regulators and industry experts widely consider the practice a red flag for bad charities. The Times further describes their rationale and methodology HERE.

From their research, the Times produced a list of what they characterize as the 50 Worst Charities in America (PDF version HERE). Their primary benchmark is those charities that consistently kept less than 33 cents of every dollar donated, paying professional fundraisers 66 cents or more of every dollar donated. What surprised me is the fact that there are 14 police and firefighter charities on this list. Because police and firefighters routinely place themselves in harm's way, most people are sympathetic towards them. But do police and firefighters actually benefit from these charities, and do they actually need their help? I list the 14 below to answer the first question; click on the links to find out more specific information published by the Times:

5 Firefighters Charitable Foundation: 8.1% direct cash aid, 85.7% of donations paid to solicitors.
7 International Union of Police Associations, AFL-CIO: 0.5% direct cash aid, 72.3% of donations paid to solicitors.
9 American Association of State Troopers: 8.6% direct cash aid, 80.0% of donations paid to solicitors.
14 Association for Firefighters and Paramedics: 3.1% direct cash aid, 89.7% of donations paid to solicitors.
18 United States Deputy Sheriffs’ Association: 0.6% direct cash aid, 68.8% of donations paid to solicitors.
20 Police Protective Fund: 0.8% direct cash aid, 42.4% of donations paid to solicitors.
30 Disabled Police Officers of America Inc: 2.5% direct cash aid, 78.7% of donations paid to solicitors.
31 National Police Defense Foundation: 5.8% direct cash aid, 78.8% of donations paid to solicitors.
33 Reserve Police Officers Association: 1.1% direct cash aid, 88.5% of donations paid to solicitors.
35 Disabled Police and Sheriffs Foundation: 1.0% direct cash aid, 84.4% of donations paid to solicitors.
36 Disabled Police Officers Counseling Center: 0.1% direct cash aid, 84.1% of donations paid to solicitors.
43 Firefighters Assistance Fund: 3.2% direct cash aid, 82.1% of donations paid to solicitors.
45 National Narcotic Officers Associations Coalition: 0.0% direct cash aid, 83.3% of donations paid to solicitors
49 Firefighters Burn Fund: 1.5% direct cash aid, 85.0% of donations paid to solicitors.

From the combination of direct cash aid and percentage of donations paid to solicitors, one can see that only a very small amount of the funds actually reach the intended clients; namely, the cops and firefighters. So these charities are primarily a jobs program for telemarketers.

This leads to the second question: Do police and firefighters really need the funds provided by these so-called "charities"? Perhaps in some parts of the country, this may be so; I would imagine that right now, the citizens of Black Forest, Colorado might be tempted to write a blank check to their firefighters for their work in knocking down the wildfire. But police and firefighter compensation data for Anchorage, Alaska casts doubt upon the need here. The Alaska Policy Forum published some detailed stats about police and firefighter compensation in Anchorage during 2012:

(1). An Excel spreadsheet showing total compensation paid to 3,202 Municipality of Anchorage employees in 2012. Total compensation is defined as base salary, overtime, and the value of the applicable benefits package. A total of 306 municipal employees earned more than Mayor Dan Sullivan's salary of $170,787.60

(2). A separate list shows only the 306 employees who earned more than Mayor Sullivan. Of those, 72 are police (brass, sergeants, and senior patrol officers), and 113 are fire department employees, mostly captains, battalion chiefs, and apparatus engineers, with a handful of ordinary firefighters. These don't look like the type of people who need help from telemarketing charities.

If you are really inclined to respond to a telemarketing charity, the Tampa Bay Times recommends asking five key questions of any telemarketer:

• What is the full name of the charity?
• Do you work for a paid fundraiser?
• How much of my donation actually goes to charity?
• Will any local programs directly benefit? If so, how?
• What is the website address of the charity?

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