What to watch out for when charities come calling

In every corner of the country, dinner will be interrupted tonight by phone solicitors raising money for charity.

Some of these are good charities. A lot of them aren’t.

The U.S. has about 1.6 million charities that are required to file annual tax forms with the IRS. About 6,000 charities across the country report that they rely on phone solicitors and telemarketing firms to raise money. Most reputable charities avoid phone solicitors because it costs too much.

Our series America’s Worst Charities shows what happens in the worst cases – 98 cents of every dollar raised is squandered. The 50 worst charities wasted more than $1 billion in the past decade dialing for contributions. We reported the stories over the course of a year with Florida’s Tampa Bay Times. CNN joined our partnership in March.

So when the phone rings, how can you tell the difference between a good and bad charity? We’ve created some tools and tips to keep handy. And we’ve provided an easy-to-download list of the 50 charities in America that spend the most on phone solicitors.

Among the tools is a postcard that families can keep by the phone that includes questions to ask telemarketers, such as: What’s the exact name of the charity the caller is raising money for? Oftentimes, these charities sound similar to well-known groups. You might also ask the caller to break down what percentage of the money will make it to the charity. (Bet that prompts a supervisor to jump on the line.)

We have a limited supply of these postcards that we will mail to community groups. You can fill out an electronic order form here.

There also are some good resources to help consumers check out charities, including Charity Navigator and GuideStar USA.

But we thought we’d go one better – and do some of the leg work for you.

In a unique piece of engagement and outreach, we are asking the public to recommend names of charities that may warrant scrutiny. We’ve already received dozens of tips since we launched the project.

If you’ve been called at home, there’s an excellent chance the charity is seeing only a fraction of the money raised by its solicitors.

So we’d like you to jot down the names of those charities and send them our way. We can’t investigate every lead, but we’ll do our best to dive in on some.

We’ve put together a confidential form for you to submit information to our reporters who will sift through the responses. The more detailed information you can provide, the more leads we’ll have to work with.

We’ll report back on our progress.

Like our content? Help us do more.

Support Us

Leave a Comment

via Twitter