How we followed a telemarketer's tracks in Iowa

Associated Community Services is one of the nation’s largest charity telemarketing firms. “They’d call you for breast cancer in the morning and veterans at night,” said one former employee.

Credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

To track how telemarketing companies target donors, the Tampa Bay Times and The Center for Investigative Reporting focused on one company, Associated Community Services, and examined how it did business in one state, Iowa.

Associated Community Services is one of the largest charity fundraisers in the country, according to data compiled by GuideStar, an organization that gathers federal filings by nonprofits. Financial filings by about two dozen of the company’s charity clients show Associated Community Services raised about $40 million nationwide on their behalf in 2011.

Its fundraising efforts in Iowa make up a small fraction of its total collections. The Times and CIR focused on Iowa because that state’s attorney general had subpoenaed internal records from the company as part of its own investigation. Iowa regulators agreed to provide copies of the documents with the names of individual donors redacted.

The Iowa documents list every donation collected by the company’s operators for people who gave 10 times or more.

They also list the dates of each donation, the amount, the charity that received the money and the name of the telephone operator who made the call.

In total, Associated Community Services collected at least 10 donations from nearly 400 Iowans from March 2010 through June 2011.

Over 16 months, those donors were contacted a bare minimum of 5,500 times – the combined number of times they donated. The actual number of calls was far greater, because donors did not give every time they answered the phone.

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