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You get a call asking for a contribution so that some kids can go to the circus, on behalf of the local police benevolent association.

This sounds like a good cause, so why not agree to contribute to it?

Before you agree, you ask if the person calling is a professional fund raiser, meaning that the fund raiser will get a piece of whatever you contribute.

The answer to your question is "yes". You could contribute to the organization directly so that the organization gets to keep the whole amount, but without such professional fund raisers, you would never have heard about the good work this organization does, and they would not be taking any kids to the circus.

I got a call like this recently, and afterwards had occasion to talk to the person running the professional fund raising business. When I raised the question as to why people should agree to have some of their contribution go to somebody besides the charity that they wanted to contribute to, he mentioned that the people manning the phones are working for minimum wage plus an incentive based on production, and they need jobs too.

So maybe this makes sense: you want to contribute to the organization plus to a jobs program. This isn't such a bad idea, is it?

First, understand that these professional fund raisers often keep 90% or more of the money contributed, so the organization may be getting just a tiny piece.

Second, understand that the poor minimum wage employees aren't necessarily getting the rest of that money. Instead, it may be going to somebody who's just a legal con artist, who's own idea of fair compensation for his efforts is millions of dollars.

Sure, the minimum wage folks doing the outbound telemarketing aare getting paid, but how much of the money that the professional telemarketing company receives actually goes to paying the people on the phones? The correct answer is: probably not very much.

Before you agree to make a contribution, you might want to ask just how much of it will go to the charity.

In the Cagey Consumer's view, however, professional fund raising is just another commercial segment of the outbound telemarketing industry. The calls are just as annoying as other telemarketing calls, and they are subject to fraud and deception just as other types of telemarketing calls are.

Nevertheless, solicitations for charities are not subject to the "do not call" rules that apply to other types of telemarketing calls. As a result, when you contribute in response to a professional fund raiser's call, you're really financing more unwanted calls from professional fund raisers. So even if you think it's for a good cause, the Cagey Consumer urges you not to contribute when that professional fund raiser calls.

Most of the charitable event calls that we receive come from TBS Productions... here's the record from the California Attorney General's office for 2002:

Charity/Charitable Purpose Commercial Fundraiser Activity Total Revenue To Charity % To Charity
Oakland Police Officers Association TBS PRODUCTIONS Family Variety Show 412,066.00 90,895.84 22.06
San Francisco Police Officers Association TBS PRODUCTIONS Family Variety Show 431,837.00 90,459.25 20.95
Alameda County Deputy Sheriffs Association TBS PRODUCTIONS Family Variety Show 424,207.00 88,551.75 20.87
Santa Clara County Police Officers Association TBS PRODUCTIONS Family Variety Show 410,681.00 85,170.25 20.74
San Mateo Police Officers Association TBS PRODUCTIONS Family Variety Show 310,271.00 62,054.20 20.00
Santa Cruz Police Officers Association TBS PRODUCTIONS Family Variety Show 119,026.00 23,805.20 20.00
Bakersfield Police Officers Association TBS PRODUCTIONS Family Variety Show 242,523.00 48,504.60 20.00
Bakersfield Firemen's Relief Association TBS PRODUCTIONS Family Variety Show 181,659.00 36,331.80 20.00
San Jose Firefighters Burn Foundation TBS PRODUCTIONS Family Variety Show 309,168.00 61,833.60 20.00
Fresno County Firefighters Local 1180 TBS PRODUCTIONS Family Variety Show 142,864.00 28,572.80 20.00
Fresno Deputy Sheriffs Association TBS PRODUCTIONS Family Variety Show 151,822.00 30,364.40 20.00
San Mateo County Deputy Sheriffs Association TBS PRODUCTIONS Family Variety Show 409,847.00 81,969.40 20.00
Correctional Peace Officers Foundation TBS PRODUCTIONS Benefit Magic Show 288,480.00 43,272.00 15.00
San Francisco Firefighters Charitable Fund TBS PRODUCTIONS Benefit Basketball Classic 218,457.00 32,768.55 15.00
Firefighters Charitable Foundation TBS PRODUCTIONS Grand National Rodeo 769,682.00 115,452.30 15.00
Deputy Sheriffs Association of Santa Clara County TBS PRODUCTIONS Basketball Classic 418,512.00 87,128.00 20.82
Santa Cruz City Firefighters Local 1716 TBS PRODUCTIONS Benefit Basketball Game 155,129.00 31,025.80 20.00

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