The Cop Column
September, 2004

Sgt. Rick Hord
Public Information Officer

Charities That Aren't

"Good Morning, Mr. Businessman, I'm selling ads for a calendar to support the local school basketball team..."

That's an appeal likely to generate considerable response in Okaloosa County, and many other communities. But it may be less than honest.

Some salespeople find clever ways of riding the coat-tails of community support for schools and charities.

The calendar scheme is typical. Businesses in Okaloosa County and elsewhere have bought calendar space in the mistaken belief the school, athletic team, or other community program would receive some of the proceeds. In fact, many times, the school or team knows nothing about the calendar. The paying sponsors are given stacks to hand out, and there's no other distribution effort.

How can a salesman get away with that? If they're smart (and they usually are), they know enough not to break any laws.

A few years ago, the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office tried to make a criminal case against just a salesman. We couldn't. There was no crime. The man said he was selling calendars, and he was. He made no false claims. How about "supporting the school...?" He didn't say what kind of support. If you guess he meant "moral support," you guessed right.

The calendar salesman has plenty of company. Others of his kind find nefarious ways to get into others' wallets for than their own profit, leaving a blissfully ignorant customer with a warm, yet totally unfounded, feeling of charity.

We receive many questions about door-to-door magazine sellers. They're usually young adults in their late teens and early 20's, with a well-rehearsed sales pitch including references of paying their way through school, and about earning "points." The fact is, they're no different from any other for-profit, non-charitable solicitors. Many of them aren't even students.

Judging from the comments of citizens, many magazine sellers are very persistent, aggressive, and skillful salesmen. They have to be; their subscriptions are usually no bargain. Some citizens say they knew they could purchase the same subscription direct from the publisher at one half or one third the price... but gladly paid more "for a good cause."

I'm sorry to report that this particular "good cause" is nothing more than lining someone's pocket.

That's also true for the vast majority of telephone solicitors. Those who say they represent a charity are usually telling the truth. What they don't tell you is how much of your contributed dollar ends up in a charitable program. In the case of one of the more prolific telephone-solicited causes, less than 18 cents of every dollar goes to charity. Almost 70 cents is used to pay the solicitors; the rest is eaten up in administrative costs.

Our advice: Don't part with any of your hard-earned money until you know exactly where it's going. Ask questions. Lots of questions. Don't make a decision until you have the answers... and in many cases, that won't happen during a telephone call or front-door visit.