In Your Corner Investigation: OK Fundraiser makes millions off your donations

In Your Corner
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DEL CITY, OKLA. - Sallie Seagrave wanted to support her local firefighters.

“They save so many lives and we depend on them,” she said.

The salon receptionist received a call from someone soliciting donations on behalf of the Metro Firefighters Association. 

Sallie says, “I gave him $30 and he gave us the paper and [a] nifty little sticker.”

What the solicitor failed to mention was only about $.33 of every dollar Sallie’s salon donated would actually go to the firefighters.

The rest of the money was pocketed by S.H.O. & Associates of Del City, a telemarketing company hired to do the fundraising.

Believe it or not it's all perfectly legal.

The In Your Corner team poured over tax returns from 2008 through 2012.

During that time S.H.O. & Associates raised $1,237,164, but only $454,550, a little more one third of your donations, actually went to the charity. 

S.H.O. & Associates snatched up the rest, a grand total of $782,614.

Phil Sipe is President of Oklahoma City's firefighters union, one of twelve unions across Central Oklahoma that receive a cut of the fundraising dollars.

He said, “If there is something out of line here, it certainly needs to be corrected.”

Sipe says his organization doesn't have the manpower or time to fundraise on their own and the money raised by S.H.O & Associates helps fund charitable projects that otherwise might not exist.

“We really do give a lot back to the community and the fundraiser helps us do that,” Sipe said.

In the past five years S.H.O. & Associates also raised about 1.5 million dollars in the name of veterans and children.

Perhaps, it's most lopsided contract is with the Oklahoma City Junior Chamber of Commerce or Jaycees. Since 2008 the fundraiser has made nearly one million dollars off the Jaycees, while the charity's cut was just 10 percent.

John Martin of the Butterfield Memorial Foundation has worked in fundraising and non-profit development since the 90's.

He says commission based compensation fundraising is not only a bad practice, but it erodes the public's trust.

“They're not breaking the law but any donor and any organization that would hire them needs to step back and ask themselves why they have to tolerate that,” he said.

This past December one of those charities, the OKC Jaycees, fulfilled wish lists for under-privileged students at Pierce Elementary in Oklahoma City.

“S.H.O. & Associates" and Ted Howard helped coordinate the charity event.

In fact, Howard is a former Jaycee member and board president and currently serves as a senior advisor for the organization.

All the while his company, S.H.O. & Associates continues to make $.90 off every dollar they collect in the charity's good name.

Prior to 2011, fundraisers like S.H.O. & Associates were largely unregulated in our state. 

Senator Susan Paddack wanted legislation with teeth.

“Our donors need to have that assurance that when they give their dollars, those dollars go to the organization and its mission,” she said.

There are safeguards to protect donors, like stiffer penalties and enforcement.

The Oklahoma Attorney General's office handles complaints against fundraisers.

Fundraisers must now register with the state.

The same goes for their solicitors, the ones who call you asking for donations.

Companies like S.H.O. & Associates must also submit their tax filings.

Here's the cool part.

The state keeps an online database of all those records.

You type in a fundraiser or charity's name. Hit search. It's that easy.

“I would actually say the law is working,” Senator Paddack said. “That the documents were there and all this filing was done and you were able to go through that says the law is in fact working.”

Here's the In Your Corner bottom line:

  • Several times the U.S. Supreme Court ruled you can't limit how much a fundraiser charges for its services, but you can control who gets your money.
  • Trust your gut and ask questions, like how much will actually go to the cause.

Howard says he won't apologize for making an honest living.

He says after fundraising expenses and administrative costs there's little leftover for his paycheck.

Remember, education is your best defense.

Check out a fundraiser or charity:

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