Shortly after Sept. 11, telemarketers working for the Police Protection Fund began cold-calling people in Indianapolis and across the country, claiming they were raising money for the families of fallen police officers. “Can you donate 50 bucks? You get a sticker showing that you support your local Police Department,” one of the telemarketers asked this reporter. When countered with a question of how much of the money would go to the stated cause, the telemarketer quickly hung up. But that was far from the last call. Despite requests for the Police Protective Fund to stop calling and despite joining Indiana’s no-call list, it continued to regularly ring our number for more than two years. Eventually, the question became, who are these guys? Recent Internet research into the organization revealed several national articles calling the non-profit fund a scam and warning people against giving it money. The articles note that the Police Protection Fund is not affiliated with any Police Department and the little badge stickers they send won’t get people out of tickets. But the most telling discovery on the Internet was a 2002 tax return — a posting required for all non-profit organizations. The return revealed that of the $4.2 million the organization raised through individual donations, only $48,000 went to help undisclosed “members.” Most of the rest — $3.7 million — was paid to telemarketing companies based in Florida, Texas and New Jersey. United Funding Organization, the telemarketer that calls Indiana residents, was paid for $1.5 million for its work in 2002. According to give.org, a Web site designed to help people decide where to make charitable donations, a quality non-profit organization is one that gives its cause no less than 50 percent of the money raised. In 2002, the Police Protective Fund gave its cause about 1 percent. The rest, apparently, went to making these telemarketing companies very rich. Darin Fishburn, of Marion County’s Fraternal Order of Police, gets more complaints about the Police Protective Fund than any other police-related fund-raiser. “We have tried our hardest and couldn’t find who they were helping,” he said. “If people want to help the families of officers call the FOP. One hundred percent goes to the cause.” Fishburn noted that, according to the Police Protective Fund’s general claims, it serves about 1 percent of the nation’s 750,000 police officers. “None of the money comes here,” he said. “They could not give me an answer on how many members are in Indiana, which makes me think there aren’t any.” Staci Schneider, press secretary for Indiana Attorney General Steve Carter, chuckled when asked about the Police Protective Fund. “I get calls from them, too, and I just don’t pick up the phone,” she said. The Attorney General’s Office has received about 30 complaints from Hoosiers believing the no-call list should keep the Police Protective Fund from calling. Despite the questionable aspects of the group, these cases are closed because the Attorney General’s Office has determined the organization meets the statutory requirements for it to bypass the no-call list, Schneider said. Officials from the Police Protective Fund did not return calls for this story.
Staci Schneider’s pointers for donating to non-profits • If you feel the person is pressuring you, take a step back to think, tell him or her to call back in a few days. • If someone says he or she will come to your house to pick up a money donation, do not give out your address. • When you receive a call for donations, ask the caller to repeat who he or she is and from where he or she is calling. • Ask how much goes to the group he or she claims to be raising money for and then request this information in writing.