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Solicitations from police, firefighter and veterans’ organizations draw government scrutiny

The BBB Charity Information Service applauds the nationwide “Operation False Charity” crackdown by the Federal Trade Commission and 61 state government agencies that targets high-cost solicitations by police, firefighter and veterans’ organizations.

 The BBB Wise Giving Alliance and the Better Business Bureau (BBB) receive more than 130,000 inquiries a year from donors who want to know how police, firefighter or veterans’ charities stack up against BBB standards for charities.

“Consumers complain about unscrupulous operators seeking to take advantage of American generosity and concern for police officers, firefighters and veterans in their communities,” said Jim Judge, Director of Charity Information Service of the Better Business Bureau serving Eastern Missouri and Southern Illinois.

The BBB Charity Information Service is concerned about practices that are common to many police, firefighter and veterans’ organizations including:

•  High fundraising costs, which leave little to assist the named cause;

• Excessive pressure in telephone fundraising appeals; and

• Lack of clarity about what programs donations will be assisting.

A consumer booklet by the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, “Donating to Police and Firefighter Organizations” is available online for free at and offers advice for vetting solicitations. Also available online at is the BBB Wise Giving Alliance testimony on Assessing Veterans’ Organizations given to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in December 2007. The testimony includes specific BBB guidance about veterans’ groups.

“Certainly, police, firefighter and veterans’ charities fill an important need in society for current and former members of the armed services, police, firefighters and their families,” said Judge, “and we are pleased that a number of these charities meet our standards. However, we also have some concerns.”

The BBB offers the following tips to help donors make wise giving decisions when considering police, firefighter, or veterans’ charities:

• Check with outside sources before giving. For reports on national charities, visit the BBB Wise Giving Alliance online at For local charities, go to or call 314-645-3300. Donors also can check out charities with their state government’s charity registration agency, usually a division of the attorney general’s office.

• Mistaken identity. Just because the organization includes the words “police” or “firefighter” in the name it does not mean that any member of the local force is involved. Also, many veterans’ charities include virtually the same words in different order or slightly different form.

• Telemarketing cautions. Telemarketing can be a costly method of fundraising if it’s not carefully managed. Don’t hesitate to ask for written information on the charity’s programs and finances.

• On-the-spot donation decisions. Be wary of excessive pressure in fundraising. Don’t be pressured to make an immediate on-the-spot donation. Charities should welcome gifts whenever provided.

• Donating cars. Find out how much of the auction price for donated cars actually goes to the charity. Sometimes the charity receives only a small portion of the resale price. Also be mindful of the latest IRS rules on the deductibility of such gifts.

• Clear program descriptions. Look for a clear program description of the organization’s activities in its appeals and on its Web site. For example, if the appeal says the charity is helping veterans, does it explain how (e.g., financial, housing, and/or counseling, etc.) and where it is doing so?

For more information on charities and businesses, call the BBB at 314-645-3300 or go to

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