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What To Do When A Charity Calls

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Would you give if you knew just pennies on the dollar would get to the intended charitable cause? Probably not!

But that's exactly what's happening when a charity hires a fundraising firm to call you at dinnertime asking for a donation.  Those for-profit telemarketers typically keep the majority of what they raise- we've even seen cases where they keep everything they raise plus a fee from the charity!

What can you do?

  1. Find Out Who's Calling
    As we said, many phone calls soliciting charitable donations come from for-profit professional telemarketers that keep a sizable portion of your donation for themselves and don't really care about the cause they're promoting. Find out if the person with whom you are speaking works for a telemarketing company or is a volunteer or employee of the charity itself.
  2. Ask Where Your Donation Goes
    Professional, for-profit telemarketers typically negotiate their fees ahead of time and know exactly how much of every dollar raised goes to the charity and how much stays with the telemarketer. As various state charity regulator reports confirm, companies often keep a significant of portion of each dollar raised (read our summary of those reports). Sadly, in some cases no money is returned to the charity. So, be sure to ask the person on the other end of the line to tell you how much of your donation will actually end up with the charity. By law, they must tell you.
  3. Eliminate the Middleman and Do Some Research
    Even if you like what you are hearing about the charity’s work, we strongly advise that you cut out the middleman by ending the call. Then investigate the charity.
    • Begin by checking to see if the charity is one of 1,000s that Charity Navigator rates. Our ratings clearly indicate of a charity is spending too much money on fundraising, as is the case with the charities on this list.
    • If the charity is listed among the ‘unrated organizations’ on our site, then follow our tips to determine if the charity is worth your investment.
  4. Contact the Charity Directly
    If your research indicates that the charity may be worth funding, then we recommend you contact it directly before you give. Ask the charity to explain why it is using a for-profit telemarketing firm to solicit funds, about the terms of its contract with the charity (some charities have signed multi-year deals that they can’t get out of even if they are losing money) and request that they refrain from calling you again. Finally, ask the charity how you can donate so that your gift will support their work and not an outside fundraising firm.

Additional Tips:

  • Never give out credit card, bank account, or other personal information over the phone.
  • Beware of "sound alike" organizations that have names similar to responsible, reputable charities. Don't be swayed merely by a benevolent-sounding name.
  • Remember that you have the right to end the phone call whenever you wish. You should never feel coerced into giving
  • Although you are still eligible to receive calls soliciting contributions after you've registered your phone number with the National Do Not Call Registry, you do have some recourse. If you receive a call from a third-party telemarketer on behalf of a charity (rather than the charity itself), then you can ask that firm to stop calling. If the telemarketing firm calls again soliciting for the same charity, then that firm could face a fine.
  • Share your experience with other donors by posting a comment on the charity’s ratings page on our site.

To recap, even if the caller represents a charity you like, politely decline and hang up. Then, if you still want to support the organization, visit Charity Navigator to research the charity. If it checks out, then directly donate to the charity thereby avoiding the middleman altogether.  

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