Let’s take a sober look at charity fraud warnings

Whew – did you survive our recent “holiday season overrun with fraudulent charity pitches?”

December’s AARP Magazine no doubt raised hackles among my fellow fundraisers.  It speculated that 2017’s many natural disasters might bring a blight of scammers; it helpfully pronounced that among year-end solicitations you receive, “chances are good that one or more are scams.”

Oh, and who’s to blame for all this fraud, per our AARP alarmists?  Apparently, donors are.  “Blame your good nature,” the article said, suggesting that Americans’ generosity ($390 million donated in 2016), gives rise to “scammers who prey on our charitable spirit,” often hooking you suckers with “nothing more than a well-worded request and heart-tugging photo.”

Hey!  As one of those request-worders, I resent the suggestion that charitable spirit is something to guard against.  After all, the vast majority of solicitations are legitimate, offering donors a genuine chance to create a better world.

That said, we fundraisers don’t resent public wariness.  We frequently talk about ethics — most recently at the December luncheon of our local Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) chapter.  We discussed how isolated abuses linger for years and affect public opinion of the entire profession.

Hey, we get it:  a rising tide lifts all boats, but one rotten knothole can sink the whole ship.

To drive out the knotholes, AFP works hard to educate members about ethics.  We’re all on guard for missteps, because ethical lapses can damage every other fundraiser’s credibility.

The article got it right when it said: “Listen to your heart…but use your head as well.”  Yes, ask for charities’ registrations, and verify the percent of donations used for programs.  Any ethical fundraiser will welcome those questions – because we’re all committed to a rising tide, not a sinking ship.


On Philanthropy appears monthly in the Milwaukee Business Journal and is contributed by Doug Diefenbach for the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter.

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