By Stuart Morrell/Special to The Apopka Voice

If your household is anything like mine, you are constantly getting phone calls from various “charities” asking for donations to help. And the timing is usually during the dinner hour! Having spent 20 years working in the non-profit world, I will go out on a limb and say that the clear majority of these callers are scams.

Many of these calls are seeking support for police and firefighter widows, kids, etc.

Every day, our police and firefighters risk their lives to make our community safer. To show your support, you may consider making a donation when a fund-raiser calls from a fire or police service organization. But before you write the check, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) urges you to consider these facts:

  • Simply having the words “police” or “firefighter” in an organization’s name doesn’t mean police or firefighters are members or beneficiaries of the group.
  • Just because an organization claims it has local ties or works with local police or firefighters doesn’t mean contributions will be used locally or for public safety. The organization should be able to provide you with written information describing the programs your donation will support, and their fund-raising costs before you donate.
  • Most solicitations for police and fire service organizations are made by paid professional fund-raisers.
  • Donations to some police or firefighter groups may not be tax deductible. Many kinds of organizations are tax exempt, including fraternal organizations, labor unions, and trade associations, but donations to them may not be tax deductible.

Want to know where your public safety contributions might be headed? Taking the following precautions can help ensure that your donation dollars will benefit the people, organization, or community you actually want to help.

  • Ask fund-raisers for identification. Many states require paid fund-raisers to identify themselves as such and to name the organization for which they’re soliciting.
  • Ask how your contribution will be used. Ask what percentage of your contribution will go to the fire or police organization, department, or program. Also, ask if your contribution will be used locally. Get written information.
  • Call the organization or your local police or fire department to verify a fundraiser’s claim to be collecting on behalf of the organization or department. If the claim cannot be verified, report the solicitation to local law enforcement officials.
  • Ask if your contribution is tax-deductible. If it’s not tax-deductible, the money is not going to a charity. When making your contribution, make your check payable to the official name of the group or charity. Avoid cash gifts: Cash can be lost or stolen.
  • Be wary if a fund-raiser suggests you’ll receive special treatment for donating. For example, no legitimate fund-raiser would guarantee that you won’t be stopped for speeding if you have a police organization’s decal in your car window. Don’t feel intimidated about declining to give. A caller who uses intimidation tactics is likely to be a scam artist. Report the call to local law enforcement officials.

I find that the biggest question to ask is “What percentage of my contribution will go to the charity/cause?” The answer you get is most telling.  If it’s a legitimate charity, they should be telling you that more than 50% of your contribution will go towards the charity/cause.  What I find is that one of three things will usually happen on a scam call:

  • They will tell you they don’t know but will get back to you and of course, never do
  • They will answer with a line similar to “I have been instructed to tell you that a minimum of 10% will go to the charity/cause”
  • They will hang up on you

If only 10% is going to the charity or cause, where is the rest going?  Right into the pockets of these likely scam artists!  Wouldn’t it be better to call the charity or cause and ask how you can support them directly so that they would receive 100% of your support?

The National Consumers League’s National Fraud Information Center offers this additional advice: beware of organizations with names that are similar to legitimate groups. And be suspicious of callers who offer to come to your home to pick up your contribution—legitimate charities don’t do that.

Remember, you can always hang up and call the organization directly. That way, you know every penny is going to your local firefighters or police, not to the guy who interrupted your dinner.

(Thanks to the Federal Trade Commission and AARP for some of this background information)


Stuart Morrell spent 20 years as a Fund Raising and Agency Executive in the non-profit world and worked with organizations such as the American Heart Association, American Diabetes Association, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and the United Way.

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