Solicitors working for not-for-profit groups representing public safety agencies are raking in profits while the charities they represent receive only a pittance of what's raised, state records show.
The Indianapolis Star found that many not-for-profits with ties to police, firefighters or veterans often hire professional solicitors to raise money. But the solicitors typically keep the bulk of the funds, leaving some organizations with as little as 5 percent of the money raised.
Though it's legal to enlist solicitors to raise money, experts say the practice is lazy and one of the worst ways to raise money. Solicitors working for police and other public safety groups can prey on people's emotions, often bringing in money that never goes toward the cause the solicitor claims it supports.
"They're appealing to the sense of patriotism or the sense of communitarianism, that these individuals are risking their lives in day-to-day work in a way that most people don't," said Patrick Rooney of the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.
"I think that's all good and noble," he said. "But in some cases, it's valid, and in other cases, it's a sham."
Philanthropic experts suggest 65 percent of collections should reach the not-for-profits. But state records for the Association of Indiana State Troopers, Indiana Drug Enforcement Association and Indiana Firefighters Association show the three groups often have received less than 20 percent.
Solicitors do have a place, experts acknowledge. They can help young not-for-profits start fundraising until they come up with better methods, such as using volunteers. And some, like the Castleton Volunteer Fire Department, receive the bulk of the funds raised.
But too often not-for-profits rely on the telemarketers for years, depriving the group of money for good causes.
"It's lazy or slothful to just let some outside solicitor do it for you and keep most, 80, 90 percent of the money," said Daniel Borochoff, who is president of CharityWatch, which ranks charities for donors.
The Indiana Police Officers Association, a not-for-profit run by former and current Indiana State Police officials, has used at least four solicitors since 1998. The most it has reported receiving is 20 percent, according to the Indiana Attorney General's Office.
Of the nearly $874,000 raised by one solicitor, the police association received only about $117,000—or 13 percent. Of the nearly $805,000 raised in two campaigns by another solicitor, the police association received only about $161,000—or 20 percent.
"That's very poor," Borochoff said. "They need to show that there's a chance that they're going to improve and become efficient at some point."
State Police Sgt. Dwayne Dillahunty, a member of the association's board, called the figures "disturbing."
"I would venture that—wow—the public might even be inclined to not participate in those solicitations. Knowing that myself, I would be reluctant any time I got a phone call."
One not-for-profit, the Indiana Firefighters Association, said it might shut down its fundraising.
The group received as little as 5 percent of the money raised by a solicitor.
"We have to have a better means of trying to raise money," said Roger Johnson, the association's president.
But he isn't sure what the answer is.