Large percent of FOP donations used for expenses

The Indiana FOP uses telemarketers to solicit donations.
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The money is meant to help families of fallen police officers. But Eyewitness News has learned most dollars you donated to a popular Indiana charity are not being spent on the cause.

Supporting the families of fallen heroes is a mission that made Kim White want to help. So when she got a call for charity from the Indiana State Fraternal Order of Police, she decided to donate.

"Because it was the death benefit for the fallen officers, or it was something to help their children and so that's always been a soft place for me and our family." White said.

But White just learned her money may not be going where she thought.

Eyewitness News obtained tax documents from the state FOP. They show last year, through telemarketing calls, the organization raised more than $1.9 million, but $1.6 million of that went to fundraising expenses. Eighty-five percent of the money raised was spent on raising money.

That means only 15 cents of every dollar donated actually went to help the charity's causes: death benefits for fallen police officers' families, youth programs, scholarship programs, legal assistance for FOP members and maintenance of the Memorial to Fallen Public Safety Heroes in Indianapolis.

"So what do we have, less than $300,000 that are actually going to the victims who need assistance? That's very concerning," White said.

It's also something she didn't know from the telemarketer's conversation on the phone.

"They made no mention whatsoever of the percentage that went to the fund," White said. "They just said that it was to go toward the fallen officers death benefit."

The state FOP has a call center in Muncie, where the donations are raised and where much of the donation dollars are spent.

Literature for the fundraiser tells potential donors "We are proud to inform you that we do our OWN fundraising from our own call center located in INDIANA."

State FOP President Tim Downs says it simply costs money to raise money and that the donations are fueling local jobs.

"Telephone lines cost so much to rent, envelopes, printing, stamps. Unfortunately, it draws on your bottom line, just for the expense of running the campaign," Downs said. "Almost almost three-quarters of a million dollars goes to employees and in our call center, those are all Indiana residents wouldn't probably have a job without the opportunity to make money."

But not all charities work that way.

For example, Muncie's local Fraternal Order of Police, which raises money for events like "Shop With A Cop," got rid of its telemarketing company so it could keep most of its donation dollars.

"Our expenses now run about 40 percent. So 60 percent is going to the programs," said retired Muncie police officer Charles Hensley, who handles fundraising for the local FOP. "To realize they're (the state FOP) getting only 15 percent out to the public is unreal."

The Central Indiana Better Business Bureau accredits charities if they meet certain financial criteria.

"We need to see that 65 percent of their total operating expenses are going towards program activities, toward the cause," said BBB President and CEO Bill Thomas.

The state FOP acknowledges changes may be needed and says its board is looking to cut costs.

"Is it satisfying to me? No. I mean, I would love to have 100 percent of it, but unfortunately, reality is, it costs money to make money," Downs said.

"Is there a better way? I'm sure there is. I can say that our board is constantly looking at better ways to trim the costs and do the things it takes so that money does go, more of that money does go to the cause."

White wants changes now.

"Obviously, I won't be donating any further monies to that particular charity unless they make some major changes in the way they handle things," White said. "Because obviously, I want the majority of the dollars to the people who really deserve it."

For any charity, the Better Business Bureau says it's up to consumers to ask questions and do their research. On that phone call, find out exactly how much of your money is actually going to the cause before you donate.