Give your money to someone you know

Published 9:00 am Monday, February 16, 2009

“Hello, David, this is Crystal with the Ahoskie Labrador Retrievers’ Association and I’m calling because a special friend felt sure you’d want to help sponsor t-shirts to benefit the association.”

On the off chance that there might really be an Ahoskie Labrador Retrievers’ Association and that Crystal might be the caller’s real name and that she might really be calling from someplace nearby, I took the time to tell the lady I’d already spent all the money I had allocated for such things and politely told her good-bye.

I knew though, that I was giving her a great big benefit of the doubt on all those fronts.

There’s at least a 95 percent probability that the organization she was calling for does not even exist. (And it wasn’t really the Ahoskie Labrador Retrievers’ Association; I made that up. If there really is an ALRA, please forgive me and know that my best friend is a big black lab.)

There is a far, far greater probability that the lady’s name wasn’t really Crystal.

But even if it was, I resent the way she presents herself. She comes on like we were old buddies. I guess the assumption is that everybody knows at least one Crystal and will, therefore, not immediately hang up. It worked, even on me, who does not much like the one Crystal on my acquaintance list.

Crystal (or whatever her name was) led me (or at least tried to lead me) to believe that hers was a local call. My phone here at the paper doesn’t have caller ID, so maybe it was, but I have big, big doubts.

There are companies out there that hire banks and banks of people to sit in a big room in Los Angeles, (or wherever) and place such pseudo local calls. They go out and find some unsuspecting local organization and offer to raise money for it. The local group signs the contract but then gets very, very little in return.

As the president of a Lions Club once upon a time, I almost fell for such a deal. An older and wiser club member suggested that we do a little research before I signed us on. That research found many complaints against the folks with whom I was about to sign a contract. Turns out local groups that contracted with them wound up getting to keep 10 percent or less of the money hundreds of local people thought was all going to the local civic group.

Sometimes such a firm will sell some kind of printed item in the name of the “sponsoring” organization; sometimes it does t-shirts; sometimes it just solicits money to “benefit” the local organization.

There may be a legitimate firm out there doing such things and actually giving the recipient organization a significant share of the “take.” Frankly, I doubt it.

My advice is this:

If you get a call from Crystal (or Becky or Jennifer or Eunice) with no last name but sounding like a long lost friend and claiming to represent some local civic group, and you’re inclined to contribute, just tell her thanks for making you think of doing that, but you’re going to call a member of the club and just give him or her a check directly. When you hand that check next Sunday at church to somebody you’ve known since high school, you’ll know – absolutely and without a doubt – that your money, all of it, is going exactly where it’s supposed to go.

Of course, Crystal will have to go get a real job somewhere, but it’ll probably be good for her. At least then she can have some self respect.

David Sullens is president of Roanoke Chowan Publications LLC and publisher of the Roanoke-Chowan News Herald and the Gates County Index.