The first call to the New To Seattle world headquarters from the Disabled Police and Sheriffs Foundation didn’t last very long. The vaguely disemboweled computer-generated voice trying its best to sound human, and going by the name I understood to be David Angeli, wanted me to promise a donation before I would be mailed any information about the charity.
This is usually a big giveaway that something shaky is afoot. “How much of the money raised goes to fundraising?” I asked.
The line went dead.
But remarkably, less than a day later, I got another call from Angeli, again trolling for the DPSF. This call was even briefer.
“How do you spell your name?” I asked.
There was a pause. “I’m having a problem with my headset,” Angeli the computer said. Then the line again went dead.
After a little research, I now understand better Angeli’s seeming reluctance to answer basic questions. The DPSF doesn’t do very much for disabled law enforcement officers. It does, however, do a lot for professional fundraisers, and for the charity’s lone employee.
By my reading of its latest financial statements, for 2014, only six cents of every dollar donated to DPSF raised went to the stated charitable mission, which as it turns out really wasn’t what the charity’s name implies (more about that later). A whopping 90 cents of every dollar raised went for fundraising costs.
The DPSF doesn’t make it easy for would-be donors to figure out how financially inefficient the charity really is. Many charities even sketchier than the DPSF post their tax returns or financial statements online. This one does not. But, according to its website, the DPSF will send you its tax return and financials if you mail a check for $19.00.
I’ll save you the cash. Click here, and download both for free from the New York State Attorney General’s Office website. Then follow long on my merry journey.
The first thing is that’s I’m not even sure where the DPSF is, or was, headquartered. The tax return for 2014 said it was in Ste. Genevieve, Mo., just south of St. Louis. But the auditor’s opinion letter for the very same year said Chepachet, R.I., which, like everything is Rhode Island, is near Providence. Angeli, the computer voice, also said Chepachet, but the DPSF web site right now says Ste. Genevieve. According to Google Maps, the two towns are 1,194 miles apart. Your choice, I guess.
But here’s what’s not in dispute. According to its own 2014 filings, DPSF raised $1.37 million in donations. However, of that sum, $1.24 million–90%–was spent on fundraising. Most of that went to Outreach Calling, a cold-calling telemarketer based in Reno, Nev., with a long list of dubious clients. That list includes several I’ve written about here. Among them: Breast Cancer Survivors Foundation, which spent only 5% of the money raised on its charitable mission, and the International Union of Police Associations AFL-CIO, which masquerades as a charity under its National Police and Trooper Association trade name when it really is a labor organization raising money for collective bargaining. Outreach Calling appears to be the “employer” of David Angeli.
Charity watchdog groups like the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance say no more than 35% of the money raised should be spent in fundraising.
The 6% spent on the charitable mission, which is known as the charitable commitment ratio, fell well short of the 65% minimum specified by charity watchdogs (technically, they calculate the ratio as a percentage of total expenses, not donations, but the DPSF was essentially a break-even operation so the result was the same). According to the tax return, that 6% amounted to all of $82,000.
But with a name like Disabled Police and Sheriffs Foundation, and pictures of a police funeral and handicapped individuals at the top of its web home page, you’d at least think that whatever remained all went to help injured cops or their next-of-kin, right?
More than 80% of that went to produce free training programs like videos for police. For all I know, they may be great programs. But to me it is very deceptive to raise money for that using a nonprofit with the name Disabled Police and Sheriffs Foundation. Again by my reading of the documents, exactly $8,000 was spent on what was called a “survivor assistance grant program,” which seems a lot closer to the spirit of the name. Still, that’s barely a half-penny of every dollar raised.
The DPSF’s sole employee, co-founder and executive director David Kenik, did a lot better than the victims or their loved ones all put together. He was paid $64,000.
My emailed request to him for comment produced a lengthy reply. Kenik acknowledged that training–not help to already disabled cops–was the primary mission of the DPSF.
As for fundraising, Kenik said a small charity like his doesn’t have the resources or profile to solicit corporate sponsorships. The only viable option, he wrote, was fundraising by professional telemarketing organizations. He wrote:
This is the only fundraising model that guarantees a profit without any expense to the charity. All expenses including upfront costs and donor acquisition costs are covered by the professional fundraiser. The caveat is that we retain only 10% of the donations, the rest goes to the fundraiser to cover fundraising costs. It sounds harsher than it is. The vast majority of the fundraiser’s portion is not profit, rather, it covers the fundraiser’s campaign expenses. Telemarketing is expensive because it takes 10 calls for each donor contact. It takes 20 contacts to receive a single donation pledge which averages just $20.00. Obviously, that costs money.
While fundraising is expensive, it’s the only way we can produce our valuable training. What’s an officer’s life worth?
The DPSF is no stranger to negative attention. A few years ago the Tampa Bay Times put DPSF No. 29 on its list of “America’s Worst Charities” for its large fundraising costs and tiny cash grants. A write-up accompanying the list said the DPSF had changed its name five times, which is also not a good sign.
You now know what the DPSF does, and how it does it. If you’re okay with the m.o., fine by me. If not, and the DPSF rings you up, ask the computer how to spell its name. The call will be over in no time, and you won’t have to be rude or impolite, or even say no.