Fundraising group should not be soliciting
I've been getting calls from a place called the Donation Processing Center, 1050 Bishop St. First they called me to give money for the Association for Firefighters & Paramedics, then for the Breast Cancer Relief Fund. I contributed to both of them and now they're calling me to give money for the Reserve Police Officers Association. Is this legitimate?
Answer: The calls were made by an organization called Community Support Inc., based in Milwaukee.
The fundraising company had been registered with the Hawaii Attorney General's Office to solicit contributions in Hawaii.
However, the attorney general denied Community Support's registration renewal on June 25 because the application was incomplete, Hugh Jones, supervising deputy attorney general for the Tax Division and administrator for charity resources, told us Thursday.
He said the company's registration had been suspended several times in the past, most recently on May 31, for failing to file end-of-solicitation-campaign financial reports on a timely basis.
The suspension was lifted after the required reports were filed, Jones said. Community Support was registered through yesterday, but should not be soliciting in Hawaii until it submits a complete renewal application, he said.
The Better Business Bureau of Hawaii, in a reliability report on Community Support, says it hasn't received a complaint about the company during the past 36 months, the standard reporting period. However, it said it requested basic information from the company and has not received a response.
It did note, under "Government Actions," that the Attorney General's Office also suspended the company's registration on April 3, and imposed $2,000 in administrative penalties, for failing to file financial reports for Children's Charity Fund, Disabled Police Officers Counseling Center, The Committee for Missing Children and The American Breast Cancer Foundation.
There is no actual 1050 Bishop St. address in Honolulu. The address where you sent your checks, as indicated on the "Sponsor Confirmation" letters you copied to us, is a postal mail box (PMB 436).
Before we received information from Jones and the BBB, we called a number listed on one of the letters and reached someone who identified himself as Tom Berkenbush.
He said he was an office manager for Community Support, although Tom Berkenbush is listed as president of the "tele-fundraising" company in papers filed with the Better Business Bureau in Wisconsin.
He described Community Support as "a professional fundraising company," soliciting donations on behalf of several charitable organizations in Hawaii and other states.
"'Donation Processing Center' just means (that's) where we collect the mail," he said.
Asked if any of the charitable organizations his company represents are based in Hawaii, he said, "The ones we do fundraising for are located out of state."
How would someone know that? "If they ask, they're told where the organization is headquartered," he said.
We asked what other organizations, in addition to the three you mentioned, Community Support solicits funds for in Hawaii and was told, because we were not directly solicited, "I think I've given you enough information."
In the solicitation report currently on file with the Attorney General's Office for the period July 2006 through June 30 (see www.hawaii.gov/ag/charities), Community Support reported raising $154,517 on behalf of the American Breast Cancer Foundation, of which $18,542, or 11.9 percent, went to the foundation.
Other amounts reported raised, followed by the net amount given the charity and its percentage, are: American Foundation For Disabled Children, $255,530 -- $31,941 or 12.4 percent; Association For Firefighters & Paramedics, $706,864 -- $70,686, 9.9 percent; Cancer Center For Detection & Prevention, $196,041 -- $23,524, 11.9 percent; Junior Police Academy, $126,243 -- $12,624, 9.9 percent; and Police Protective Fund, $190,991 -- $22,918, 11.9 percent.
Community Support also listed the Disabled Police Officers Community Center, Law Enforcement Alliance of America, U.S. Navy Association and Reserve Police Officers Association, but reported no money raised for them.
"When reports indicate that zero was collected and zero paid to the charity, that generally means that there was no solicitation activity during the period covered by the financial report," Jones said.
We noted that the amounts listed appeared to be national figures.
Hawaii's solicitation law is not clear about whether solicitors should report national or Hawaii figures, Jones said, adding that he is "considering seeking amendments to the law next year to require solicitors to report both numbers."
REGISTERED IN HAWAII?
To find out whether a company or charitable organization is registered to solicit donations on behalf of nonprofit organizations in Hawaii, check the state Attorney General's Web site, www.hawaii.gov/ag/charities. The Attorney General administers and enforces Hawaii's charitable solicitation law.
Charity Navigator touts itself as "Your Guide to Intelligent Giving" and "America's premier independent charity evaluator." Check www.charitynavigator.org to get information and ratings on hundreds of charities, including several in Hawaii.
SENIOR SCAM HOTLINE
Call the Better Business Bureau of Hawaii's Senior Scam Hotline, set up to protect the elderly. To get information or advice, call 536-8609 on Oahu or toll-free, (888) 333-1593.
The Better Business Bureau of Hawaii is a good source for information on specific charities/businesses and advice on what to do when you are solicited -- call 536-6956 or check www.hawaii.bbb.org.
Here are its tips on charitable giving:
» Don't be fooled by names that look impressive or closely resemble the name of a well-known organization.
» Ask questions. Don't give any money until satisfied that you know who is getting the money, and how much of your donation goes to them.
» Appeals may be disguised as bills or invoices.
» Ask for written information on the charity, clearly identifying the charity and its programs.
» Never give in to pressure to give money on the spot.
» Do not give cash. Always make contributions by check and make your check payable to the charity, not the person collecting the donation.
» Keep records of donations and ask for receipts.
The BBB also has specific advice if you are solicited by "law enforcement fundraising groups," noting a common problem with law enforcement "look-alikes" is their high fundraising costs and low yield to the actual organization.
Got a question or complaint?
Call 529-4773, fax 529-4750, or write to Kokua Line, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210, Honolulu 96813. As many as possible will be answered. E-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
. See also: Useful phone numbers