Thursday, November 30

Naming rights "on the cheap"

You remember the donor who withdrew a $20 million pledge because the Florida International University University President hurt his feelings by saying the was getting the medical school named after him "on the cheap." Well, despite the fact that we think that's the kind of thing you just don't tell the donor... maybe he was right. Will Shanley at the Denver Post reported yesterday:

While the University of Colorado announced this week that its medical campus in Aurora will be named after Denver-based financier Philip Anschutz, school officials continue to seek a name donor for its School of Medicine.

"I'm not sure how long it will take, but I'm sure we'll get this done at some point," said Dr. Richard Krugman, dean of the University of Colorado School of Medicine. "This isn't a sprint."

More than a year ago, Krugman and a team of advisers launched a campaign to find a well-heeled philanthropist willing to donate $100 million or more in exchange for the naming rights to the school.
I guess it's of little consolation to the Board at FIU that the president was right. After all, it was just "strictly business," right?

Known by the company they keep

I read yesterday on The Agitator that Roger Craver and another Canadian, Mike Johnston of HJC New Media, and a group of folks from Craver, Mathews, Smith, Grenzebach Glier & Associates, Direct Advantage Marketing and The Share Group have formed a joint venture called The Legacy Giving Group.

They are argue that "the reality of legacy giving is that 95% percent of all 'planned gifts' come in the form of bequests by a simple will...averaging about $35,000." And these donors come in by direct mail and are easily cultivated with the right strategy.

They call it " an innovative approach at orchestrating a virtual symphony." But it sounds to me more like a fundraising dream team. The only one of those groups that I've never heard of is Grenzebach Glier & Associates, but they are keeping some darn good company... so they must be cool people who are definetly on the bus.

Wednesday, November 29

Quiz for fundraisers who use telemarketing

As readers to this blog know, I work as a direct marketing fundraiser for a nonprofit organization. Not only do I love the fundraising that my group does... I also love digging into other nonprofit fundraising programs. I give to several nonprofits (as you may have read on Duke Smith's Donor Insite blog) and I try to get myself seeded on as many direct mail lists as possible. And unlike Trent Stamp, I love to give to telemarketers. However, I ask the caller's really hard questions.

Last night I got a call from a telemarketer who was trying to convince me to give my gift via credit card. Which is great, I push my telemarketing vendors to put as many gifts on a credit card as possible... it's guaranteed money in the bank. When the caller got to his ask, I countered by offering either a pledge of $50 or a credit card gift of $25.

In my mind, there is only one rock solid answer to this question... but I'm going to wait until Friday to tell you what I think the answer is. Feel free to post your opinion in the comments.

And because I know that my family and other folks who know nothing about fundraising also visit this site... I'll even give you a clue... the original title of this post was going to be "Why Fundraisers Make Good Poker Players."

Thanks everyone!

We reached our goal of $250 a full month ahead of our expected deadline. Thanks so much to those who contributed. I've ended the ChipIn event, but if you still want to support this great site you'll just have to wait until we launch the clothing line and online store later this week OR you can always help by clicking on these Google advertisements all throughout the page (believe it or not, those eyesores bring in about $10/week.

Tuesday, November 28

Worst Person in the World?

I admit it - I really like Keith Olbermann. I liked him when he was at ESPN and I've really enjoyed watching his climb through the ratings. As part of his nightly 8pm broadcast, Olbermann awards his "Worst Person in the World" award. Tonight, he gave it to someone for returning a donation:

But tonight’s winner, Linda Crosshauer, the National Science Teachers Association president. Laurie David, co-producer of the Al Gore movie “An Inconvenient Truth,” and wife of the actor Larry David, tried to donate 50,000 DVD copies of the movie so science teachers could show their students.

She said they e-mailed back that they couldn’t accept the DVDs because, among other things, doing so would place, "unnecessary risk upon the National Science Teachers Association capital campaign," especially certain targeted supporters. Who might they be?

Who wouldn’t donate lots of money to the Science Teachers Association if it accepted copies of “An Inconvenient Truth?” Try Exxon Mobile and Shell, which had already donated millions to the association and the American Petroleum Institute, whose own movie the association happily accepted and distributed. It’s called “Fuel-Less, You Can’t Be Cool Without Fuel.”

I got Copernicus and Galileo on the phone. They say the Earth revolves around the sun. What hang up on them? All right, I’m sorry, we have taken millions from the Flat Earth Society. Linda Crosshauer, president of the National Science Teachers Association, available at the right price, Monday's Worst Person in the World.

You can read more about this in last Sunday's Washington Post or on The Democratic Daily website.

It was only a week ago that the Marines' Toys for Tots Christmas toy drive reversed course and decided to accept the 4,000 12-inch tall talking Jesus dolls from the Beverly Hills Teddy Bear Co.
"We realized it's a lot less time-consuming to find homes for the dolls than it is to answer media and complaints," said Bill Grein, vice president of the foundation in Quantico.
If you feel compelled to contact the National Science Teachers Association - first you should know the President's name is NOT Linda Crosshauer, her name is Linda Froschauer. She can be reached at or 703.243.7100.

Monday, November 27

They have 165 fundraisers?

The Boston Globe ran an Associated Press article on the trend by Boston area hospitals to bulk up on the number of fundraisers in their development department. While it doesn't make the explicit conclusions that hiring more fundraisers helps nonprofits raise more money... it came close enough for me.

Dana-Farber, which has tripled its development staff in the past 10 years to 165 employees, raised $203 million in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. The total was its best ever and more than double the dollars raised in 2001. The institute also got its largest donation ever this year -- a $50 million unrestricted gift from trustees Richard and Susan Smith for a new research and patient care building.
Do we get any readers at Don't Tell the Donor from the Dana Farber Cancer Institute? If so, drop me an email. I'd love to know how you all run development staff meetings.

Oprah update

A couple weeks ago, Oprah surprised her audience by giving them each a $1,000 debit card from Bank of America. The catch was that they had to give all the money away in less than two weeks. Today was the update show and despite my doubts - several did find ways to multiple the $1,000 many times over. But apparently, there were more catches for participants in Oprah's stunt that haven't been reported in the mainstream media. On a selfish note, earlier tonight if you googled the words "oprah pays forward" without the quotes, Don't Tell the Donor was the first hit - I love it when that happens!

Sunday, November 26

MSNBC gets on the bandwagon

As part of their "Give and Take" series, MSNBC has an interactive feature on charity scandals and controversies. The good folks at Charity Blog Network and the Agitator have already posted on other aspects of this television series. I wonder how we could persuade the MSNBC folks to feature the slew of great blogs run by fundraisers...

Saturday, November 25

Fundraising widgets

I admit that my use of the ChipIn widget for website fundraising is a selfish one. However, as a fundraiser I can already see the potential for this tool to create earth shattering viral fundraising opportunities. Maybe you've seen the posts written on Beth's Blog or Duke Smith's Donor InSite. If you want a well researched overview, read this article.

Friday, November 24

Can debtors be donors?

Recent bankruptcy reforms in the United States have been criticized for favoring credit card companies at the expense of the debtors and the poor by making it harder to file for bankruptcy. Jonathan Cohen at Charity 2.0 Blog Network pointed us in the direction of Michelle Singletary's recent column, "Charity begins, and ends, at creditor."

The courts used to allow debtors filing for bankruptcy protection to exempt up to 15 percent of their annual income from creditors for tithing or charitable donations. However, a judge in New York recently ruled that the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005, places limitations on a bankrupt donor's ability to tithe to their church before the creditors have been paid off.

In a New York case, a bankruptcy judge ruled that some debtors can't tithe or donate money to charity if they want federal bankruptcy protection. US Bankruptcy Judge Robert E. Littlefield Jr. ruled in August that because of the recent overhaul of the bankruptcy code, the $100 a week a New York couple wanted to give to their church had to go to creditors.

Under the new bankruptcy rules, which went into effect a year ago, debtors who file for bankruptcy must first undergo a means test. Those whose annual incomes are at or below a certain amount based on their state's median income are permitted to file for Chapter 7, which for the most part wipes out nonsecured debt.

However, if an individual or couple makes too much money based on the means test, they must file under Chapter 13, which requires debtors to repay their debts over three to five years. In a Chapter 13 filing, only certain "reasonable" expenses are allowed. What's left after those expenses are determined must be used to repay creditors.

Before the law went into effect, bankruptcy court judges were required to permit debtors to tithe a portion of their income on a regular basis. Specifically, the Religious Liberty and Charitable Donation Protection Act of 1998 allowed debtors filing for bankruptcy protection to exempt up to 15 percent of their annual income from creditors for tithing or charitable donations.
Congress has raced to explain that this is not how they intended the law to be used. Senators Orrin Hatch and Barack Obama to propose legislation that would allow individuals in bankruptcy to continue giving to churches and charities.
Obama, who voted against the 2005 bankruptcy legislation, said the bill would clarify that Congress didn't intend for the law to prioritize creditors over religious institutions and charities. The bill passed in the Senate and has now been referred to the House.
Regardless of your views on what this author sees as a deeply flawed bankruptcy reform, there are several good topics of debate in this story. Are restrictions on tithing paramount to restrictions on religious freedoms? Should donors who are deeply in debt continue to give to charities?

Even for donors that are not in bankruptcy, as more and more charities ask donors to use credit cards for automatic monthly donations or even single gifts - should charities care that these donations are adding to mountains of existing debt?

Wednesday, November 22

Sheriff guilty of fundraising "macing"

The Associated Press reports that former Allegheny County Sheriff Pete DeFazio has agreed to plead guilty Tuesday to charges that he benefited from strong-arm political fundraising tactics (known as macing) in order to raise money from underlings.

Paula Reed Ward from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette explains it this way:

As part of the scheme, top officers in the department would sell tickets to campaign fund-raisers to deputies and other employees. Those who bought tickets and contributed were rewarded with plum assignments and overtime opportunities. Those who didn't were punished, the government said.
DeFazio stepped down from the sheriff's office on Oct. 31, ending a 36-year career in law enforcement. He will still get his pension "because macing is not among the 22 state charges that can disqualify a person from receiving a pension." And he may only get probation when sentenced.

I bet if they were his daughter's girl scout cookies instead of tickets to a political fundraiser people wouldn't be as upset.

Tuesday, November 21

Fundraising, flamingo style

Some of you may have heard that Union Products, the Massachusetts company that produced kitschy pink plastic yard flamingos, closed this month. If only their marketing department had heard of Shannon Mammen earlier.

Shannon is a Sunday school teacher at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in New Richmond, Wisconsin. According to the Pioneer Press, this past fall she had the idea to raise money for Hurricane Katrina. She ordered a flock of flamingos from eBay and then she notified her congregation the birds would randomly appear in their yards unless they paid "flamingo insurance" for $10. After that - the real fun started.

Flamingos were placed in the yards of congregation members and were removed only when the members donated money to the fundraising event. The members were not required to donate a set sum, and Mammen said donations ranged from $5 to $50.

The fun of the event, Mammen said, was that once members were "flamingoed," they could choose whose house would be next.

The event raised $2,000. But if you ask me... that sounds more like extortion than fundraising. And you thought telemarketing was invasive?

Monday, November 20

Ohio fundraiser gets 18 years in prison

John Seewer at the Associated Press reports that Bob Ney, the former GOP fundraiser at the center of a scandal-plagued state investment in rare coins, was sentenced Monday to 18 years in prison.

Don' Tell the Donor had previously reported on this story in September when Ney was sentenced to twenty-seven months for funneling money to George W. Bush's reelection campaign. Today's sentencing was tied to Ney being found guilty of theft, corrupt activity, money laundering, forgery and tampering with records.

Target supports Salvation Army, but not bell ringers

For the third straight holiday season, Target Corp. (like other malls featured on this blog) continues its policy of banning Salvation Army bell ringers from standing in front of its stores.

However, according to the Dallas Business Journal, the discount retailer is making a two-fold effort to support the charity in other ways.

Target said last week it is donating $1 million to the charity via an online version of the Salvation Army's Angel Tree program. The site raises money by allowing shoppers to buy and decorate a virtual angel ornament in return for a donation of any size. The money will be used by the Salvation Army to buy clothing, toys or food for needy families.

According to Reuters, David Blaine will be hoisted 40 feet above the ground just off New York's Times Square on Tuesday. Target Corp. has challenged the magician to escape from his position by 5 a.m. Friday. If he succeeds, Blaine will then accompany 100 families chosen by The Salvation Army on a $500 shopping spree at Target.

Blaine's previous stunts include 61 hours encased in a block of ice, one week buried in a coffin, and a failed attempt to escape a water globe. This time, the publicity hound will be secured in a three-ringed gyroscope spinning continuously in all directions.

I wonder if Blaine fails again, will the kids still get the money?

Sunday, November 19

Around the Fundraising Campfire
Stories of Dismal Failure, Near Misses, and Great Success

Cecilia Hogan is the Director of University Relations Research at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington. She published an interesting article on the Information Today, Inc. website using a campfire metaphor to describe the inside story to headline donations.

Charity on this scale doesn’t just happen. In most cases, it represents the culmination of a direct and concerted effort on the part of the nonprofits who receive the assistance. Even in the case of natural disasters, many relationships between donors and nonprofits have been built long before the critical moment. The reputations of the receiving nonprofits have been well-established in the minds and hearts of major gift donors before the moment when support is needed.

In most cases, that big gift from an alumnus, former hospital patient, or museum patron begins months or even years before the public hears about the gift. And it often begins when the potential donor’s name draws the attention of a nonprofit researcher.

I was a little disappointed because the article uses generic examples instead of the inside stories and gossip the headline suggests. However, it's still a worthwhile read for a Sunday afternoon.

Saturday, November 18

Halfway there to goal

Thank you to those who have already made a donation to help me buy a new URL and redesign my blog. I jumped the gun and already bought the URL, but it's going to take a few weeks to get it going. (By the way, some "poacher" stole from me - crazy, right?) For basic one-year hosting, charged me $177... so if you want to help this community grow, use the widget to your right.

They never knew they were donors
Feds probe "straw contributions" to Puerto Rican official

Last year, Aníbal Acevedo Vilá was elected Governor of Puerto Rico. Before becoming Governor, Acevedo was elected resident commissioner in 2000 which serves as the Commonwealth's nonvoting representative in Congress.

For several months the FBI has been investigating donations made to his 2000 election. On Thursday the Puerto Rican office of Secretary of State Fernando Bonilla was ordered to turn over all documents -- including checks, e-mails, faxes and handwritten notes -- on more than 60 individuals or companies tied to a handful of Philadelphia fundraisers.

Frances Robles at the Miami Herald reports that federal investigators are trying to determine whether ''straw contributions'' -- donations illegally made under another person's name -- were made in order to bypass federal campaign donation limits.

A June report by the Philadelphia Inquirer showed that several Pennsylvania dental company employees listed as contributors on Acevedo's campaign finance reports had said they never gave money to the campaign.

The investigation so far has centered around Philadelphia dentist Candido Negron and his business associate, Robert M. Feldman, a Philadelphia Democratic Party fundraiser who once co-hosted a fundraiser for Acevedo Vilá.

Feldman and Negron are under scrutiny because they were seeking a contract from the island's government healthcare system for Doral Dental, a Wisconsin-based company that has paid them hundreds of thousands of dollars in commissions, the Inquirer reported.

It seems like someone forgot to tell the donors that they were actually even donors.

Wednesday, November 15

Free booklet on fundraising

The only thing I love more than fundraising is free stuff.

In 1964, Lewis B. Cullman and a colleague engineered the very first leveraged buyout (LBO). With only $1,000 in cash, they bought Orkin Exterminating Company for $62.4 million. And a subsequent succession of deals resulted in his purchase of Keith Clark, a desk calendar company, that evolved into At-A-Glance®, the largest manufacturer of calendars and appointment books in the U.S.

Cullman's website says that after he sold the company, he embarked on "the most rewarding, journey of his life — philanthropy." To date, he and his wife Dorothy have given away over $223 million to the arts, sciences and education.

Cullman, 87, is now giving away his newly-published booklet, How To Succeed in Fundraising By Really Trying (Download here). This is not the typical book by a rich donor who thinks just because they give a lot they know anything about fundraising. Cullman is also a fundraiser himself and this booklet shares a number of funny anecdotes. My favorite:

A few years back, Tom Rogerson of State Street Growth told a story about going to see some ancient curmudgeon in Boston. Tom was hoping to convince the guy to give the bulk of his $25-million estate to charity, but he knew it was going to be a tough sell.

Tom had barely started his pitch before the guy lit into him.

“I wouldn’t give a dime to any goddamn charity,” he shouted. “People ought to take care of themselves. Why don’t they make their own money instead of hitting me up for it?”

Tom said, “Do you know that when you die, 55 percent of your estate goes to the government? Have you decided how much you want to go to defense? How much to education?

“I can’t make that kind of allocation!”

“Well,” Tom replied, “I’ll show you how you can.”

I’ve always liked that story because Tom countered the curmudgeon’s nonsense by suggesting charity as a way to make a choice. But what I most admire is the way Tom refused to give up.

Persevere! It works!

I recommend the download... and unlike most of what the DMA offers - its free!

Tuesday, November 14

Giving will only encourage them

This past Saturday the Washington Post ran a story by Linda Stern telling her readers "it's time to update the way you give to charity." Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, her story reads more like an advertisement for charitable gift funds. At the end of the piece there was one tip for donors that really made me mad:

Give fewer, more generous gifts. You might have a number of favorite charities, but try to limit that. Figure out which causes mean the most to you before you decide whom to fund, and then focus on those causes. Giving small amounts to many charities mutes the impact of your gift and encourages myriad charities to spend more and more money trying to get more out of you.
Come on Linda... you make us sound like pigeons.

I feel like Trent Stamp at Charity Navigator has also urged donors to concentrate their giving. That may be true if your main definition of "impact" is donor recognition. But if your definition of "impact" means financial efficiency or effectiveness at achieving the organizational mission then I would argue giving 10 gifts of $10 could have the same impact of one gift of $100.

Monday, November 13

Text message fundraising via mobile phones

It's coming. We all know it's coming. In fact, I have a small wager with a couple fundraising colleagues about which one of us can make our direct response departments get it working first. However, as a word to the wise: If you are going to hand out fliers with a text number for donations - make sure you proofread twice!

Last August, a group of 10 people from the Animazzjoni Missjunarja Teresa Nuzzo, went to Kenya, where they worked in a secondary school for girls. They had good intentions to fundraise - but sometimes even good intentions end up on my blog.

Following their experience, the Animazzjoni Missjunarja Teresa Nuzzo launched a fund-raising campaign on 1 November. The campaign mainly consists of a leaflet distribution to all households in Malta and Gozo. During distribution, the group realised that the SMS donation numbers printed on the leaflets distributed to the 160,000 households were incorrect. Any donations sent via the numbers featured on the leaflet are being passed on to organisations that have nothing to do with the missions.
Ugh. That hurts.

Saturday, November 11

A little weekend laughter

Jeff Brooks at Donor Power Blog posted a direct mail funraising joke on his website today:

Q: What's a passive-aggressive donor?

A: Someone who gives regularly, but always via white-mail.

Unless you've spent a couple hours trying to analyze what motivated a direct mail donor to send in a check, this joke may not make as much sense. "White mail" is the mail that comes back without a response device or even a pre-coded business reply envelope (BRE). It's impossible to forecast or budget for... it's even harder to try and figure out which outbound mail campaign motivated the donor to give.

Help ChipIn for our site upgrade

I've had a lot of fun these past 5 months learning how to maintain and grow a blog. I love nonprofit fundraising... heck, I may want to be a nonprofit fundraiser for the rest of my life. But, I'm on the nonprofit salary... and when I need $250... I need to ask others for their help to make my vision come true.

With your help, I will buy the URL, move away from blogspot, and hire some professional help to implement all the greats redesign suggestions I've received from readers. And who knows, maybe I'll even give you a clue about the real identity of Mr. "a fundraiser" himself.

Friday, November 10

Donor withdraws $20 million pledge

A former optometrist named Herbert Wertheim has withdrawn a promised $20 million donation to the planned Florida International University medical school.

The Miami Herald reports that during a phone call this past week, Wertheim told FIU University President Modesto Maidique that he did not want to give the $20 million in a lump sum, but instead he needed to restructure the gift over 26 months of installments for tax purposes. As a result, the school would lose a state matching grant for another $20 million.

In response to the donor's request, Maidique told Wertheim (who had been his friend for more than two decades and even attended the President's recent wedding) he was getting the medical school named after him "on the cheap." Maidique reportedly said he could get $100 million for naming rights today.

This really hurt Wertheim's feelings. He withdrew his pledge all together, resigned from the university board, and has asked that the name of the school be changed.

Wertheim, had joined the school's foundation board of directors in 1988 and led its first capital campaign, raising $204 million in four years.

Ugh. Now that hurts. My humble advice to Maidique: "dude... don't tell the donor that kind of stuff."

Maybe it was something they drank...

Back in August, Bloomberg ran a story on members of Congress who were increasingly sharing apartments to save money. The article also mentioned how some members often live as neighbors on the same block. However, looking back on it, this blurb seems to indicate the most unlucky fundraising event in recent political history:

Republicans can be neighbors, however. Five Republican lawmakers living in row houses assessed at $250,000 to $400,000 on the same block as Miller's got together to raise money on May 18. For $1,000 per fund-raiser, donors drank margaritas for Representative Chris Chocola of Indiana, Scotch with Representative Clay Shaw of Florida, wine with Representative Mark Foley of Florida, and martinis with Representative Nancy Johnson of Connecticut. For another $1,000, they had dessert and coffee with Representative Jim Ryun of Kansas.
All five of those reps -- Chocola, Shaw, Foley, Johnson and Ryun -- lost on Tuesday. As another blogger pointed out - there may be an entire block for sale in Washington, DC come January.

Brits pass Charities Act

Next week, the British Parliament appears ready to make the Charities Act of 2006 law.

The Act has several laws related to fundraising. A columnist in the Telegraph thinks the Bill is alarming and has real threats. It "will vastly increase the power of the Charities' Commission to dissolve charities, confiscate their endowments and assets, and give them to what the Commission considers a more genuinely 'charitable' cause."

It means that the Commission will be able to use whatever definition of "public benefit" it likes. The motive behind redefining that notion seems to have been the desire to ensure that charities benefit all the public, not just some small section of it. That is why, for instance, schools and hospitals that charge fees are being threatened with the withdrawal of their charitable status: they are said only to benefit people who can afford to pay, and not the whole of the British public.

Thanks to Philip Cubeta at Gift Hub for the heads up.

Thursday, November 9

Are you wasting $180,000 a year?

Melissa Campanelli at DM News reported today on a survey that the average business could be wasting more than $180,000 per year by sending out direct mail that is not relevant or does not reach the intended recipient.

The study was commissioned by QAS, a Cambridge, MA company that specializes in address verification & data quality software. So, I guess you could say this is sorta like the sugar industry sponsoring a study that says Splenda is bad for you.

But Melissa Data offers free NCOA for the first 15,000 names. Any one ever use this service?

Is this what the future will look like?

For fundraising news junkies like myself, the political season was a special treat. Perhaps what makes tracking political fundraising so interesting is the open and transparent listing of who gives what to which groups.

Congressional Quarterly has an extremely well maintained website called Political MoneyLine which presents a searchable electronic database for individuals, PACs, and a wide variety of other fundraising reports. Another site, offer comparisons of individual candidate races. For the last presidential election, FundRace presented an interactive mapping tool to track what your neighbors were giving to which candidates.

Naturally, as a nonprofit fundraiser, I ask myself if all 501(c) 3 and 501(c)4 organizations will some day look like. Will this complete transparency one day be the norm for all of us?

Last month, Ken Goldstein at the Nonprofit Consultant's Blog posted on the topic of donor poaching. He asks readers if they are afraid of posting annual reports out of fear that other charities will use the list to steal other groups donors. And while I have personally worked at organizations that wrestled with this issue... you can't stop the wheels of progress, right?

A new company called NOZA, Inc. claims to have the world's largest searchable database of individual donors - available for only $25 a month. I assume they gather their 16 million records by crawling online donor lists. Is this the future?

It makes me think of a number of stories about politicians that maintain extremely close ties to charities which attempt to hide their donor lists. This blog wrote about one such group tied to former Senator Rick Santorum. I was also curious about a story on a group in San Francisco tied to the Mayor which initially refused to publish a list of its donors, but eventually published its donor list under growing public pressure.

Surely part of the intent of the IRS Form 990 was to shine a light on donor transparency. But there are ways to hide. In my earlier days I even used to write about whether donors had the right to be anonymous. Would it make donors less likely to donate? What do you think?

Monday, November 6

Two fundraisers could face jail time

According to a lawsuit filed by the state prosecutor's office in Maryland, two officers of a Carroll County Republican Club could face hefty fines and possible jail time after being charged yesterday with violating state election laws for failing to register as a political action committee.

The Baltimore Sun reports that the club's president, Scott Hollenbeck, 40 and treasurer, Suzanne Primoff, 56, were charged with illegally raising and spending campaign funds as an unregistered political action committee. The offenses are punishable by up to two years in jail and $26,000 fines, according to court documents.

Standing out in the cold

Holiday Village Mall in Montana is under new management... and the new management has a policy that prevents nonretail groups from soliciting money at its malls. According to the Great Falls Tribune, two local charities (Toys for Tots and the Salvation Army) say their holiday fundraising efforts will be seriously impacted by the change.

The low-key Holiday Village table brought a lot of traffic and exposure to the program, he said. Last year mall shoppers contributed $1,500 in cash and donated 400 new toys worth at least $4,000, he said. Several needy parents stopped to ask Marine Corps veterans how their kids could get in the program.

Maj. Al Summerfield of the Great Falls Salvation Army estimated that bell-ringers collected $13,000 last year at the Holiday Village Mall. He said the three busy locations inside the mall were a favorite spot for the group's mostly older volunteers. Bell-ringers kept the noise down by substituting paper clips for clangers.

To help make up that lost revenue, Summerfield sent out letters to 100 local businesses asking them for help. The money raised goes for clothing, toys and holiday meals for low-income families.

Now, I know I've said before that I think cash bucket fundraising is stupid not very strategic. But, the only thing less strategic than collecting money from donors without capturing the name, address, email, phone, or other contact information would be the huge public relations blunder being made by mall managers. Make them fill out paperwork... maybe even force them to carry insurance... but holy heck... at least don't make them stand outside in the cold.

Sunday, November 5

A 'bad cocktail' of politics and charity

Earlier today I found this article by Tom Ferrick Jr., a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

It describes the group Operation Good Neighbor Foundation. The charity was founded by Sen. Rick Santorum and seems to be exactly the type of group IRS Commissioner Michael Everson was talking about when he told the National Journal recently: "Politics, money and charities make for a bad cocktail."

Since 2001, the foundation has served as a platform for Santorum to espouse "compassionate conservatism." It has served, de facto, as a privately financed source of WAMs - an acronym for "walking around money," the grants pols so love to spread among groups to build goodwill and burnish their image.

In the spring, when I first looked into Operation Good Neighbor, Santorum's presence was hard to ignore. The Web site featured 34 pictures of the senator, most in the same pose: standing amid smiling recipients, handing over oversized checks, usually in the amount of $10,000.

The charity claims to have given out more than $700,000 since its inception. It rarely gives to the same group twice. It does not offer sustained support. It prefers one-shot (or, rather, one-photograph) deals.
So, what's the problem, right? Ferrick doesn't trust the recent trend of pols creating or being closely connected to foundations. The list includes Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, and Democratic Rep. Alan Mollohan of West Virginia. For one, it raises transperancy questions:

If I contribute $2,100 to the Santorum campaign (the individual limit under law), it will be duly recorded and open for the public to see.

If I give $27,900 to Operation Good Neighbor, though, my name and amount of donation remain secret. As an added benefit, I get to deduct the donation from my taxes.

Now, I ask you: How does Rick Santorum see my gift? As a donor, I hope he sees it as a lump sum - $30,000 donated by his pal, Tom.
This past spring Sen. Max Baucus (D., Mont.) offered an amendment to require foundations started by elected officials to disclose the names and gifts of all donors who gave more than $250. Not surprisingly, the amendment failed in committee, though Baucus has since introduced it as a separate bill.

Operation Good Neighbor, has declined to disclose its donor list, saying "it wanted to respect the privacy of donors." But Santorum is fighting for his political life and has tried to distance himself from the foundation.

When radio host Don Imus asked him about it earlier this year, the senator replied: "I try to keep my relationship as just someone who sort of shows up at events to help folks raise money and take pictures with organizations that receive the grants. I don't have any involvement in who gets these grants... [or] involvement in raising the money directly. I don't ask anybody for money, and to be honest with you, for the most part, I don't really know that many people who give to the charity."

Translated: I have nothing to do with it, except to show up to take the credit.
Especially in light of the scandals surrounding how Tom DeLay and Jack Abramoff have used charitable tax-deductable groups to provide access at a price - Congress should act to provide full disclosure of how donors to these groups influence elected officials.

Friday, November 3

Exposing fuzzy math

Sometimes when you're surfing the internet - clicking around from link to link - riding one tangent to the next in an endless sea of websites... you hit paydirt. A single link opens a door to a family of websites you never knew existed. It happened to me tonight and I'm happy to share what I found:

* Carl Bialik is "The Numbers Guy" at the Wall Street Journal
* Another site, the "Fallacy Files" weblog - exposing failues of logic?
* The Bad Analysis blog uncovers lazy & intellectually dishonest arguments

If you enjoy picking apart the numbers inside fundraising reports - you'll love these sites!

The biggest political donor

George Soros is no longer the country's biggest individual political donor. That title now belongs to Bob Perry, the 74 home builder from Houston who gained national attention after donating $4.5 million to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth in 2004. Perry, 74, has given at least $9.2 million to groups backing Republican House and Senate candidates, Federal Election Commission records show.

A Bloomberg news article on Friday reported Perry gave the Sacramento-based Economic Freedom Fund, $5 million -- almost its entire budget -- and spent at least $829,811 since Sept. 1 on TV commercials attacking Georgia Democratic representatives Jim Marshall and John Barrow. That's more than either party has spent on those races.

Thursday, November 2

Throw his butt in jail

A truly sick story in Scotland just got worse. Back in December 2000, Tony Freeman started a company called Solutions Recruitment and Management Consultancy. He paid himself £190,000 a year to run it - which by itself isn't a crime. But it turns out Freeman was a "fundraising scam boss" who today finds himself facing jail time for ripping off cancer charities. As Scotsmen News reports:

...his activities came under the scrutiny of the Scottish Charities Office and charity commissioners south of the Border. They found that Freeman's two clients - Paisley-based Breast Cancer Research (Scotland) and Breast Cancer Relief, based in Manchester, had paid millions for his services.

The charities' bank accounts were frozen and Freeman and three other trustees were ordered to play no further part in their running.

The investigation found more than £13 million had been donated but only £1.5 million had been passed on to good causes. Freeman was supposed to have collected £8 million of the £11.5 million in commission for his role as fund-raiser.
But what makes the story even worse is that the judge (or as they say in Scotland, "Lord") gave the scam boss one week to find £362,000 he still owes creditors. I say, make the man sell his house in Cyprus, liquidate his piggy bank... then throw his butt in jail for the maximum sentence. If he gets leniency simply because he "found" the money he scammed, we're going to be forced to set up an international email campaign against the Lord Kinclaven.

UPDATE: He got 18 months.

Wednesday, November 1

Deep Financial Trouble

The website Charity Navigator sent out an email today listing ten charities in "deep financial trouble." As they put it:

If an organization owes more than it owns, that's a bad sign. If the bills it owes by the end of the year are more than it can pay, that's an even worse sign. These 10 charities are insolvent. Not only do their total liabilities, or what they owe, exceed their total assets, they also maintain negative working capital -- that is, the bills they owe in the next year exceed the short-term assets they can use to pay those bills. While these charities may not be facing bankruptcy, their fundamental insolvency puts these charities in a very dangerous position.
The deepest trouble? American Christian Cause has a negative working capital of $-2,183,899.

Second place on the list goes to the National Center for Freedom and Renewal at $-1,034,607.

For a complete list, go to Charity Navigator's site.

Charity threatens to sue Angelina Jolie

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - A Cambodian charity threatened on Wednesday to sue Angelina Jolie for breach of contract, saying the Hollywood star had reneged on a promise to give $1.5 million over five years to wildlife conservation.

However, Stephan Bognar, the Cambodia-based head of the star's Maddox Jolie Pitt Project, said the relationship with Cambodian Vision in Development (CVD) had ended amicably in December because their aid work was "moving on to a new level".

"Angelina and I will be unveiling our new program and commitment to Cambodia in about a month," Bognar told Reuters from the western town of Battambang.

Much of the organization's work would center around community development, rather than wildlife conservation, he said.

Besides accusing Jolie of breaking funding promises, CVD head Mounh Sarath said his organization had taken exception to reported suggestions from Jolie's lawyer that it had stolen some of her donations and was considering a libel action.

"I have been asking Jolie and her lawyer to give me an appropriate answer, but so far no answer," Mounh Sarath told Reuters from the western town of Battambang.

"Now I give her one week and if there is still no answer I will a file suit in the local court of Battambang."

The Oscar-winning actress, who adopted a Cambodian son, Maddox, in 2002, was granted special citizenship of the war-scarred southeast Asian nation last year in recognition of her environmental contributions.

In 2003, Mounh Sarath said Jolie had paid out $350,000 to kick off a long-term project to set up a 20,000 hectare (50,000 acre) wildlife sanctuary in a jungle-clad area once controlled by Pol Pot's ultra-Maoist Khmer Rouge.

It is not clear how much more money was paid out.