Yesterday the Los Angeles Times published a startling exposé of charity telemarketing in California, finding that professional fundraisers in the Golden State keep, on average, 54 cents of every dollar they raise for nonprofits. The Times also singled out one group of charities, including the mega-rich Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), as particularly poor fundraising performers. (This “High Revenue, Low Return” group of charities also included People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.)
How bad is Californians’ return on their telemarketing investment in the Humane Society of the United States? HSUS’s “net return” from 1999 to 2006 (what was left over after professional phone harassers took their cut) totaled just 11.3 percent. If you subtract out two campaigns run for HSUS by the Build-a-Bear Workshop retail chain, which consisted of the sale of stuffed animals—not really “fundraising”—that number shrinks to just 3 percent.
This may surprise you, but not us. Look at this fundraising contract from our files. In 2004, HSUS ran a telemarketing campaign in Connecticut with the Share Group, a fundraising company that promised to return a minimum of zero percent of the proceeds. Yes, zero percent. At the end of the year, Share Group had raised $1,466,145. Not only did absolutely none of that money get where it was supposed to go, but HSUS paid $175,360 for the privilege.
The moral of the story? Whether you’re on the Pacific or the Atlantic coast (or anywhere in between), if someone calls asking for money for the Humane Society of the United States, there’s only one smart move: Hang up and make a pledge to your local animal shelter instead.