Warning on Charitable Solicitations

May 31, 2009

For many years, BBBs across the U.S. have received numerous reports about the questionable practices of unscrupulous operators seeking to take advantage of American generosity and concern for police officers, firefighters and veterans in their communities.

The BBB Wise Giving Alliance is concerned about many practices that are common to police, firefighter and veterans’ organizations including:

  • High fund raising costs with little remaining to assist the named cause;
  • Excessive pressure in telephone fund raising appeals; and
  • Lack of clarity about what programs donations will be assisting.

A consumer booklet by the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, “Donating to Police and Firefighter Organizations” is available online for free at www.bbb.org/us/Police-Firefighter-Charities and offers giving advice for vetting solicitations. Also available online at www.bbb.org/us/WGA-Senate is the BBB Wise Giving Alliance testimony on Assessing Veterans’ Organizations given to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in December 2007. The testimony includes additional BBB guidance about veterans’ groups.

BBB offers the following tips to help donors make wise pre-donation decisions when considering police, firefighter, or veterans’ charities:

  • Check with Outside Sources Before Giving. Visit the BBB Wise Giving Alliance online at www.bbb.org/charity to access detailed charity reports and giving advice. Donors can also check out charities with their state government’s charity registration agency, usually a division under the Attorney General.
  • Mistaken Identity. Just because the organization includes the words “police” or “firefighter” in the name it does not mean that any member of the local force is involved. Also, many veterans’ charities include virtually the same words in different order or slightly different form.
  • Telemarketing Cautions. Telemarketing can be a costly method of fund raising unless carefully managed. If called, don’t hesitate to ask for written information on the charity’s programs and finances.
  • On-the-Spot Donation Decisions. Be wary of excessive pressure in fund raising. Don’t be pressured to make an immediate on-the-spot donation. Charities should welcome gifts whenever provided.
  • Donating Cars. Find out how much of the auction price for donated cars actually goes to the charity. Sometimes the charity receives only a small portion of the resale price. Also be mindful of the latest IRS rules on deductibility of such gifts.
  • Clear Program Descriptions. Look for a clear program description of the organization’s activities in its appeals and Web site. For example, if it says it is helping veterans, does it explain how (e.g., financial, housing, and/or counseling, etc.) and where it is doing so?