Officials say telemarketers 'necessary evil'
Editor's Note: This is the second in a two-part Daily Mail analysis of charitable spending. Monday's edition featured a look at spending by a grouped purported to help veterans.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Every year, law enforcement organizations around the country raise money so troopers and officers can take needy children shopping during the holiday season.
But for some of those organizations, most of the money donated to these "Shop with a Cop" programs and similar endeavors instead goes toward raising more money and other costs.
A Daily Mail analysis of tax records found eight different deputy sheriff's associations raised almost $2 million through fundraising since 2009.
They paid more than $1.3 million -- about 67 percent of the money raised -- for those fundraising efforts. Less than 20 percent went to charitable programs, scholarships, donations or similar expenses.
The Better Business Bureau says no more than 35 percent of a charitable organization's expenses should go toward fundraising. Nonprofit charity watchdog group Charity Navigator says an organization shouldn't spend more than 25 percent of its funds on fundraising and administrative costs combined.
Officials call the professional solicitors a "necessary evil" to support those charitable programs. But they also admit most of the money donated over the phone goes to the person on the other end of the line.
Many counties have active deputy sheriff's associations, and most are members of the West Virginia Deputy Sheriff's Association, said Todd Murray, treasurer for the state association.
Murray retired in January as chief deputy of the Harrison County Sheriff's Department after 20 years. The association relied on donations solicited by telemarketers "long before" Murray became treasurer seven or eight years ago, he said.
"I would imagine that (people) would know that the fundraising company, that's their business, that's how they make money," Murray said.
"But what percentage (of donations they keep), I don't know if the general public would know that."
The association raised nearly $500,000 from 2009 to 2011, according to tax records. More than three-quarters of that money -- $388,000 -- went to professional fundraising. The association received about $20,000 in membership dues each of those years, according to tax records.
It spent the bulk of the money it kept, about $114,000, on office expenses and travel, according to tax records.
State association tax records say the organization provides money for legal services, life insurance, conferences, education, program services and public safety. Murray said the association regularly lets county associations know about changes in law and offers conferences or other forms of training for association members.
County associations have more success raising money through local events like golf outings or direct mailings signed by the sheriff, Murray said. The state association lacks that personal connection to the community and must rely on telemarketers, he said.
"I think a lot of us are looking at other avenues because we would like to be out of the telephone solicitation business," Murray said.
He said about half of the local associations use telemarketing.
A Daily Mail analysis found at least seven county associations also spend more than half of the money they receive every year on professional fundraising.
Associations in Brooke, Harrison, Jefferson, Logan, Marion, Monongalia and Wood counties all spent more than half of the money they received in recent years on fundraising expenses.
Nonprofit databases GuideStar.org and FoundationCenter.org had tax information readily available for those county associations. All spent at least $12,000 on fundraising efforts during a single year since 2009.
The Daily Mail included information only for associations with at least three years of recent tax records readily available.
The Harrison County Deputy Sheriff's Association raises money every year to support the organization and conduct charitable programs like "Shop with a Cop."
It uses a paid telemarketer to solicit donations. From 2010 to 2012 it received more than $329,141 in contributions, according to tax records.
About $78,000 went to charitable contributions, records show. About three times that amount -- more than $228,000 -- went to the telemarketers.
"That's the price we have to pay to have that money raised," said Lt. Pat McCarty, the association's treasurer and an 18-year veteran of the sheriff's department.
"There's no doubt about that. If I could figure out a way to get around that ..."
Other county associations show similar spending ratios.
The Monongalia association spent roughly two-thirds of the $309,000 it received from donations on professional fundraising fees from 2010 to 2012. It spent more than $50,000 on "childrens services," "Shop with a Cop", the local D.A.R.E. program and other charitable activities.
Logan County's association spent more than $125,000 of the $193,000 it raised from 2009 to 2011 on a professional fundraiser, according to tax records. The bulk of the money it kept went directly to community programs, including $57,000 on its "Shop with a Cop."
The Wood County association's spending ratio is less lopsided, with a little more than half of the $331,000 raised through fundraising going back to the professional solicitor. Tax records are vague on how it spent the money: It spent $76,500 on "misc" expenses and $32,000 on "various activities" it classified as grants or similar contributions.
The Jefferson County association raised more than $92,000 in 2011 and 2012 when it used a professional fundraiser. Tax records show it spent more than $65,000 of that on the fundraiser, compared to about $14,000 in donations and $12,600 on supplies, equipment and other items for moral support for officers.
In 2010, it raised about $12,000 and didn't list any professional fundraising fees on its tax records. It spent about $2,300 on a craft fair, according to records.
Brooke County's association spent a little more than 70 percent of the $104,233 it raised in 2012, 2010 and 2009 in professional fundraising fees. It spent about $16,500 on donations, scholarships and charitable activities during those years, according to tax records.
Fundraising fees are about the only activity listed on tax records for the Marion County association from 2010 to 2012. The association reported spending almost $68,000 of the $96,000 it raised in professional fundraising fees.
It spent $5,000 on an anti-bullying program, "Shop with a Cop" and another program in 2012. It didn't list any charitable spending on its 2011 and 2010 reports.
Murray and McCarty don't like using professional solicitors.
But if they drop them and lose money, McCarty said it could threaten the Harrison County association's "Shop with a Cop."
Both called the telemarketers a "necessary evil."
"Even if we subtracted the cost of the fundraising, would we still make that amount (without professional fundraisers)?" McCarty said.
"We fear we wouldn't be anywhere close because of the loss."
They agree there are other options, but they're doubtful other fundraising campaigns will provide as much money.
Both suggested that donors send money directly to the organization and cut out the middleman. Murray said that's what he does.
"When I get a call, I tell them no thanks, then donate directly," Murray said.
The Secretary of State's Office, the Office of the Attorney General and national nonprofit watchdog organizations like Charity Navigator agree direct contributions are best.
The state agencies and national organizations offer more tips on charitable giving at their websites.
A national report recently released from the Tampa Bay Times and the Center for Investigative Reporting provides information on charities and fundraising companies with shady track records. More information is available at http://cironline.org/americasworstcharities.