Our Work

Shameless Practices of the Worst Charities

Have you seen this recent report produced in collaboration with the Tampa Bay Times and the Center for Investigative Reporting? The report, titled America’s Worst Charities, exposes the fraud and abuse of trust perpetrated by some of the biggest scum bags in our industry. It is an exhaustive (and nauseating) look at the practices employed by 50 sleazy organizations that call themselves charities. I encourage you to read the report…but not on an empty stomach.


Our industry – the direct-response fundraising industry – relies on this simple exchange between trusting partners, “If you give me some of your hard earned dollars I will do good with it.” Most of the good people who fuel the efforts of social welfare organizations with their donations are trusting people. “You say you’ll use my money to help find a cure? Sounds good. Here’s my check for $35.”


But when fair-minded people read a report like this and discover that some in our industry are playing them for suckers—it erodes trust. In all of us. And if allowed to go on with no retribution for the crooks? A pox on all our houses.


It’s not that there haven’t always been a few con men lurking in the shadows of our industry. It’s that the short con has morphed into a long con and become systematized to the point that it has become a formula for fraud…


Start with a name that sounds a lot like the name of a popular, reputable charity. Find some hapless schlub willing to sell his soul for a six-figure salary and make him the figurehead and fall-guy-in-waiting. Mix in high-pressure and high-volume calls and letters. Make up a bunch of half-truths and exaggerations about the good you will do. Then sit back and laugh at the suckers while you recline on the porch of the lake-front house you built with money you raised to cure childhood cancer or help wounded veterans. You know the regulators aren’t likely to do anything more than slap you with a miniscule fine that you write off as the cost of doing business. And even if enough states ban your organization from operating? You just start over with a new name and a new figurehead.


Meanwhile the rest of us working hard to grow programs ethically and sustainably struggle with stagnant response rates and declining retention. I’ve been working in this industry for 20+ years now and I was fortunate enough to learn at the feet of industry pioneers and titans like Jerry Huntsinger and Mal Warwick and Ray Grace and Claude Grizzard. These guys weren’t boy scouts. They were tough-minded businessmen who didn’t suffer fools. But they were honest and ethical and would have scoffed at the small-minded shortcuts taken by the jerks named in this report.


Most people in this industry are good, hard-working, honest, intelligent folks who really want to use their skills and talents to do some good in the world. But when unscrupulous charlatans are allowed to make our job harder by destroying the trust of donors everywhere? It’s infuriating.


And it’s time we spoke up. So the next time you run into one of these jokers at an industry conference, tell them what you really think. If some of these agencies are trying to play both sides of the street by simultaneously working with reputable charities and disreputable con-job operations? Don’t give them your business. If you are active in industry trade associations, push for stronger enforcement of guidelines. Let your voice be heard. Stand up to these knuckleheads before they pull the rug out from under all of us.

Katapult MarketingShameless Practices of the Worst Charities