Tips on giving to police and firefighter organizations

The police and firefighters in your community put their lives on the line daily to protect you, your family and your community. So when you get a call or a letter asking you to give to a police or firefighter group, your first reaction is probably a generous one.


But wait. There are a lot of hype merchants out there, fast-talking hucksters only too happy to take your dollars without giving you all the facts. If you donate to groups like these, your hardworking local police or firefighters might not be helped much, if at all, and you’ll have poured your hard-earned money down the drain. If you are considering supporting police, firefighter or veterans causes, the Better Business Bureau advises you to consider the following:

• Most police and firefighter groups are not charities. While some groups are 501(c)(3) tax-exempt charities, most are labor organizations, fraternal groups or benevolent associations. Ask for the group’s tax identification letter and a copy of its IRS 990 form to determine whether your contribution is tax-deductible.

• Local police officers and firefighters are usually not involved. Don’t make assumptions; the words “police” and “firefighter” in an organization’s name does not mean that local members are involved. If your goal is to help local first responders, contact your local police or fire departments to ask how you can help.

• Don’t believe promises of special treatment. If such suggestions or threats are used, call your local police department, the Federal Trade Commission and the BBB.

• Ask for written materials. Learn more about the organization’s finances before giving. It should raise a red flag if the organization is reluctant to provide this information.

• Find out how much of your gift will be spent on fundraising costs. In some cases, these expenses can be as high as 90percent. That means 90 cents of every dollar collected goes to the telemarketer, not the organization.

• If asked to buy tickets to send needy kids to an event, ask how the children are chosen, how many will attend, how tickets will be distributed and if transportation has been arranged. This way, you’ll know better where the money is going and if the event is real.

• If your business is asked to buy advertising space in a police or firefighting journal, ask how many copies will be distributed, who will receive them, if there is a cover price and the estimated publication date. Also ask to see a copy of the draft and published version of the ad. In some cases, few copies of the publication are ever distributed and those that are given out might be done haphazardly.

Giving is a personal decision. It is up to you to decide whether a police or firefighter group is worthy of your support. The bottom line? Always ask questions to make sure your donations will be used wisely.