Telemarketers raised a record $249.3 million in charitable contributions in New York during 2012, but gave only about a third of those proceeds to the organizations they were hired to represent.
On average, professional fundraisers kept 62 cents of every dollar pledged to them over the phone, according to an annual study released Thursday by the state Attorney General’s Office. Charities in roughly half these campaigns retained less than 30 percent of the funds raised and in 91 instances — 15.4 percent of the 589 campaigns — expenses incurred by the telemarketers exceeded the contributions they received.
In the Capital Region, telemarketers raised $4.86 million for charities, but turned over only $1.73 million, or about 35.6 percent. This percentage was the third-lowest among the eight geographical regions considered in the study.
“New Yorkers who open their hearts and wallets deserve to know how their hard-earned dollars are being spent and how much of their money is going to pay telemarketers’ salaries and costs,” state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement.
Two of the three telemarketing companies in the Capital Region forwarded more than half of the amount collected to the intended charity. The Clifton Park-based Nordel Publishing Inc. collected $150,777 and gave $77,749 to the charitable organizations that retained it, while the Scotia-based Capital District Callers Inc. grossed $1,386,949 and relayed $710,477.40 to the organizations it represented. Neither company returned a call for comment for this story.
The third company — Civic Partners Inc. of Niskayuna — turned over only 29.51 percent of what it collected over to the intended charity: $202,314 of the $685,613 donated over the phone in nine fund drives.
Company owner Donald Warburton said he’d gladly take the percentage he turns over to the charities rather than what he makes in profit. He said the cost of running his call center, which employs a few more than a dozen workers, usually eats up the lion’s share of the money collected by phone.
“I always tell them, too,” he said. “I’ll switch with you guys.”
This includes paying for a location for a phone bank, covering salaries for telemarketers and paying the fees imposed by the state. Warburton pays an $80 annual fee to register each of his telemarketers with the state, a cost that can get cumbersome considering the amount of turnover in his workforce.
“If the guy makes one phone call, goes to the bathroom and walks out the door, that’s 80 dollars gone,” he said.
In many cases, the charities represented by companies like Civic Partners aren’t bothered by the percentages. Often, they’re simply content to get a third of what is donated, an amount that is always better than not getting any donations at all.
For the Rotterdam-based New York State Association of Chiefs of Police, receiving a third of what Civic Partners collects is a substantially better percentage than the amount turned over by two other companies that collect for the organization. And were it not for professional telemarketers, the association would lose a sizable stream of revenue that goes to fund its operations.
“For us to walk away from it completely is just not possible,” said John Grebert, the association’s executive director. “I know what the numbers are and nobody wishes they could be higher than me. But the reality is we need this funding.”
Charitable organizations have also come to regard telemarketing campaigns as a cost of doing business — an expense that is part of fundraising. Mark Dunlea, the executive director of the Hunger Action Network of New York State, said his organization doesn’t have the resources to raise the $156,815 grossed by Capital District Callers.
“They do it year after year,” he said of the company the network has utilized for nearly two decades. “We find it to be cost-effective for us.”
The $86,248 the telemarketer turned over to the network also comes without strings. Grants and bequests usually have stipulations that restrict how the money is spent.
Dunlea described the telemarketer used by his company as a “mom and pop” business that always promises his and similar organization more than half the funds they collect. They also allow the Hunger Action Network to provide them with a short script, which has the effect of spreading awareness about the organization’s plight.
Ultimately, though, Dunlea said those who don’t feel comfortable with the percentages are free to use a more direct method of contribution.
“You can always send us a check,” he said.