June 24, 2018
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High-pressure fundraising calls prompt effort to reduce potential for scams

By Eric Russell, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — A Bangor legislator is working on a bill that he hopes will reduce the potential for scams by creating a set of standards for third-party vendors who raise money specifically through telephone solicitation.

Rep. Doug Damon, a Republican representing House District 15 in Bangor, said he was motivated to craft the bill after a constituent alerted him to a recent misleading and confusing phone call.

The call was made by an outside agency paid on a commission basis to raise funds for a local entity. The recipient of the call objected to the aggressive nature of the caller and also to the caller’s unwillingness to answer basic questions, Damon said.

Others — including Bangor City Councilor Cary Weston — have received similar calls in recent days. Weston said he gets the same call around this time every year.

When he began researching this matter, Damon was astonished to learn that as much as 65 percent of funds raised could go to the third-party vendor.

“I knew we had to do more to protect our citizens from misleading phone calls,” he said, adding that elderly residents are particularly at risk. “These calls harm the integrity of local, community-based organizations who rely on the support and confidence of personal fundraising to support their missions.”

Mike Crowley, president of Healthcare Charities, the fundraising arm of Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems, agreed that safeguards are needed.

“If too little of someone’s gift goes to the intended use, I think at best it’s misleading the public,” Crowley said Monday. “Certainly, it preys on the vulnerability of the good will of people in the community.”

To address those concerns, Damon’s bill would subject vendors who keep more than 25 percent of funds raised to follow a strict set of guidelines.

First, callers would have to disclose that they are a commission-based fundraiser, reveal the legal name of the vendor and identify the organization that the vendor is raising funds for.

Furthermore, vendors would have to disclose how the funds are distributed and how the money will be handled once raised.

Damon said he does not want to create unintended consequences for the many nonprofits that do use phone calls to solicit donations. That’s why he included the 25 percent threshold, which he said was established after communicating with fundraising professionals who shared regional and national best practices and standards of behavior.

Crowley admitted that he has received his share of suspect calls over the years.

“In my line of work, I’m highly sensitized to the methodology of raising funds,” he said. “We don’t do phone solicitation, but we have a strict code of behavior that we follow. Many Mainers are willing to step forward to give donations, but they want to know how those dollars are being spent.”

Damon said he hopes his bill, which will be submitted next week since the Legislature is in recess this week, will generate a good discussion if and when it is sent to the appropriate legislative committee.

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