Including warnings from the Better Business Bureau and Federal Trade Commission on so-called charitable solicitations from firefighter and police groups

You might be inclined to open your wallet or purse if you get a phone call or letter asking you to donate to a firefighter or police group. Their jobs, of course, are dangerous.

It’s very gratifying to help a worthy nonprofit in the latter half of the year in the stewardship season.

But there’s often a catch, especially in the third and fourth quarters. If you want to help someone but your budget is tight, you want to be very careful in how you give your money.

Skyrocketing public-employee pensions

More on the caveat to charitable giving to firefighter and police groups later. But first, as a prelude, consider a New York Times article, “Deficits Push Municipalities to Desperation.”

The culprit: Skyrocketing public-employee pension and salary costs. Danny Hakim wrote in The New York Times article: “New York City’s annual pension contributions have increased to $8 billion from $1.5 billion over the past decade.”

Such fiscal problems aren’t limited to New York. They’re everywhere. Three thousand miles away, the city of Stockton, Calif. declared bankruptcy. San Jose has similar fiscal challenges.

Published reports quoted the mayors of Stockton and San Jose who lamented their sky-high firefighter and police salaries and pensions. To thwart rollbacks, their public-employee unions have done everything from taking legal action to advertising threats on billboards.

Better Business Bureau warning

All of this brings us to another tactic — telemarketing calls purportedly representing firefighters and police – letters and telephone calls seeking donations.

However, unless you’re careful, you might be donating money without all information you need to make an informed decision, according to a warning from the Better Business Bureau (BBB).

In many cases, the BBB says such donations don’t help hardworking firefighters and police, and you won’t get a tax deduction. The majority of phone calls are designed for non-charitable purposes. 

Incidentally, a Federal Trade Commission warning was also issued.

Additionally in some cases, in my experience in working with firefighters and police, first responders are able to game the system for themselves – using donations for campaigning and supporting public officials who grant exorbitant salaries and pensions – the major reason why countless city and county governments have budget deficits.

If you want to help first-responders with a charitable donation, take precautions before you write a check.

Consider these red flags:

1. Because most callers don’t represent a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt charity, due diligence is necessary. If you get a letter or telephone call, ask for a copy of the group’s tax identification letter; plus, a copy of the group’s IRS 990 from.

In most cases, you won’t get a response because you’re getting a call from a benevolent association, fraternal group or labor union.

2. Request written documentation about the group’s finances. Ask how much of your donation will benefit firefighters or police.

For example, in Tacoma, Wash., such phone calls once generated huge sums of money – but 90 percent of the money went to the telemarketing firm, not to firefighters.

In another instance, Tacoma police played football with Seattle police officers in the “Pig Bowl.” But the event was cancelled when it was revealed the telemarketing firm got the vast majority of the funds.

3.  If you’re asked to buy tickets for impoverished children to attend an event, ask several questions – how many kids will benefit, how are they selected, how many tickets will be handed out, and how will the children be transported to the event?

4. Because many calls don’t represent local firefighters and police, call your local fire department or police. Ask what you can do for them as a concerned citizen.

5. In some cases, callers have promised special benefits or have made threats. In such cases, contact the Federal Trade Commission and your local police department.

If you’re asked to buy ads in a firefighter or police publication, it’s recommended that you ask the appropriate questions:

What is the cover price, how many copies will be printed, where will they be distributed, when is the publication date, and who will read it?

From the Coach’s Corner, you might find the following helpful:

Effective Ways You Might Consider to Improve Your City – To fully enjoy and improve your community, there’s a lot of wisdom in the adage, “Let it begin with me.”


Successful people are always looking for opportunities to help others. Unsuccessful people are always asking, “What’s in it for me?”

-Brian Tracy


Author Terry Corbell has written innumerable online business-enhancement articles, and is a business-performance consultant and profit professional. Click here to see his management services. For a complimentary chat about your business situation or to schedule him as a speaker, consultant or author, please contact Terry.