Dialing for Dollars

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December 5, 2010; Source: The Star Press | Whatever opinion you hold about them, telephone marketers exist because they successfully sell things to people—whether they are Ginsu knives, magazine subscriptions, or a nonprofit mission. In the latter case, however, the practice of outsourcing fundraising to a call center has come under increasing scrutiny, particularly concerning how donations are split between the organization and the telemarketer.

In Indiana, the State Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) finds itself the subject of newspaper coverage about its fundraising practices. Having dumped two consultants that were permanently prohibited from telemarketing by the Federal Trade Commission—the pair raised $2.7 million for FOP and kept $2.4 million as fees—the Star Press reports that FOP hired Group Consultants Inc., a company run by a John Keller, who also has a “questionable track record.”

Keller himself paid the FTC $300,000 for violating the agency’s Telemarketing Sales Rule. And the Indiana Troopers Association is fighting Keller in US Bankruptcy Court, alleging “fraud, unethical practices, theft, deception, racketeering.”

Keller’s company works with several charities that seem to be little more than sham operations that pay top staff large salaries and give Keller large sums in fundraising fees. One of his clients, the “Children’s Charity Fund in Sarasota, Fla., gets an “exceptionally poor” rating from Charity Navigator because “87 percent of its expenses go for fundraising, 7 percent for administration and only 6 percent on programs for which the charity was created.”

To top it all, Keller’s phone solicitors are still using scripts written by the prior discredited consultants, which appear to be deliberately opaque when questioned on how much of a donation the charity actually receives.

None of this may rise to the level that triggers an investigation, and FOP’s president is reportedly unconcerned. But we have to wonder, couldn’t FOP have chosen someone with less baggage? Remember, if your organization hires a telemarketer, that firm is representing your nonprofit, and is therefore an extension of your brand. If they have questionable practices, then, in the public’s eyes, so will you.—Timothy Lyster