Recent reporting in the Chicago Tribune has brought to light, once again, how for-profit telemarketing firms that cold-call people on behalf of charities are preventing those charities from accomplishing their goals. In two particular cases, VietNow and Illinois Vietnam Veterans Inc., those telemarketers raise almost all of the charities’ funds, and leave little left over after their take. Both charities lose between 80% and 90% of their funds to telemarketers, meaning that they can’t succeed in their missions to help veterans. And they still need to cover expenses.
Of course, most donors don’t realize that the people calling them often don’t even work for the charity in question, but at a for-profit calling center that is going to more or less steal most of the money they donate. Of course, there’s nothing illegal about this, they set their rates in their contracts, so it’s on the charities to find telemarketing firms to work with that won’t rip them off. Some charity managers claim that cold-calling is the only tactic they have, which may not be true in the grand scheme of things, but for some charities, other avenues of income may be hard to come by.
According to the Tribune a number of telemarketing firms have been banned from operating in certain states, primarily because they lie to donors, the government, or to charities, but that isn’t enough to solve the problem. Cold calling is a surprisingly successful tactic, even in this day and age, and some of the largest, most lauded charities rely on for-profit call centers.
It’s the “for-profit” part that causes the problems and, frankly, needs to go. For charities that are large enough to hire their own people to call potential donors, that might be the answer, but that’s a pretty big barrier to entry. So why aren’t there non-profit call centers yet? Maybe what we need are telemarketing non-profits, geared especially toward cold calling donor for other charities, which can then take a significantly smaller portion of the funds, enough to cover costs while turning over the rest to groups like VietNow.