Routt County Sheriff John Warner has three words of advice for those answering calls from telephone solicitors this season:
"Just hang up."
Warner's recommendation stems from the Colorado Secretary of State Office's report on charitable solicitations, which shows that an average of 40.9 percent of money raised by paid solicitors goes to the charities for which they collect.
Many of those charities receive much less than 40 percent of the proceeds. The year's largest fund-raising campaign gave only 15 percent to the charity. A paid solicitor raised more than $3 million for Veterans Fund Inc., but just $461,000 of that, or 15 percent, went to the charity, the report showed.
A campaign in which just 15 cents of every dollar goes to the charity is alarming, Warner said.
"The quickest way to send a very clear message is just hang up," Warner said.
The secretary of state's report is the first of its kind to be released, but it will become an annual event. The data comes from solicitation-campaign financial reports in Colorado filed between May 9, 2002, and Nov. 30, 2003.
Of the $21 million the charities raised, the campaign showed that just $8.6 million went back to the charities, the rest went to paid solicitors.
"Do Not Call" legislation was passed in Colorado allowing people to have their phone numbers blocked from use by telemarketers, but Warner said more could be done. Requiring that no more than 40 percent of proceeds raised by solicitors working for charitable organizations can go to those paid solicitors would be a good next step, he said.
Paid solicitors are not required by law to identify during a call that they are being hired by the charity to raise money or how much of the money actually raised will go to the charity.
For Warner, the solicitations that are among the highest concerns are those for law enforcement charities.
Warner points to the Colorado State Fraternal Order of Police, where one campaign raised $280,900, but just $40,400 went to the charity.
The Colorado Police Protective Association had campaigns in which just 13 percent and 15 percent of the proceeds went to the agencies. The report shows the Colorado Law Enforcement Officers' Association netted just $50,600 from a $274,300 campaign.
A paid solicitor fund-raising campaign for International Narcotic Enforcement Officers Association sent less than 13 percent to its charity.
Warner and Undersheriff Dan Taylor said they have had experiences where they received calls at home and the solicitor said part of the money raised by the law enforcement charity would go to local programs. But when pressed further, the solicitor could not say what programs exactly would be funded or name the sheriff.
Warner said the sheriff's office never received any funding from the charities that called.
From now until taxes are due April 15, solicitors will hit residents hard with donation requests, Warner said.
Instead of giving over the phone, Warner recommends residents give to known and established local charities or organizations. If a phone solicitor does interest a person, Taylor recommends looking the organization up on the Internet and then sending the money to the charity, which cuts out the expense of a paid solicitor.
"You need to be a wise consumer," Taylor said. "You need to know who you want to contribute money to and how you want to get the money to them."
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