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One Answer to Solicitor Phone Calls

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There doesn’t seem to any good time to receive a phone call where someone is asking you for money. While these calls can be annoying Nelson Sigelman from Martha’s Vineyard has turned calls from professional solicitors into a form of entertainment.

The phone rings. The caller addresses me by my first name with the feigned good cheer and sincerity I’d associate with a used car salesman trying to sell me a Ford truck retrieved from Texas flood waters.

Nelson, how ya doin? Look I’m with the so-and-so police association and I’m callin’ you today to see if you can help out our local police officers. Just a small donation.

He ticks off specific dollar amounts.

It would mean a lot to the guys. Whatever you think you can manage. What can I put you down for?

In my experience the script is pretty much always the same — a request to help first responders. The caller may imply that he is a member of the organization without actually saying so, which would be a violation of state law.

There are generous people who readily contribute. I am not one of them. I know that in most cases the caller is a professional solicitor and that the lion’s share of every contribution goes to the solicitation company. I don’t like it when public safety agencies allow a paid hawker to trade on their public goodwill for a paltry return on the dollar.

Professional solicitors are required to file reports with the office of Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. On average professional solicitors kept 59 percent of all the funds raised in 2017, according to the Attorney General. For every dollar donated the solicitor received 59 cents and the charitable organization received 41 cents.

The Attorney General’s website contains annual reports of fundraising campaigns. It is interesting reading. The 2017 appendix filed November 2018 lists 36 campaigns on behalf of police or firefighting organizations.

The Attorney General advises people to give wisely. That begins with questions. Professional fundraisers are required by law to identify themselves and truthfully say what percentage of a donation will go to the charity.

It is very annoying to jump up to answer the phone only to be met by a professional pitch. But I have more time on my hands now. Hunting season is over and the fish have yet to arrive. I have turned calls from professional solicitors into a form of winter entertainment — make someone trained to keep me on the phone hang up on me. Any organization that references police chiefs is  dead giveaway.

$50, $100, $200 So what can we put you down for Nelson?

$10,000. I want to give you $10,000.

Stunned silence followed. The caller repeated his script and detailed the contribution amounts. I imagined he was having a mental short circuit and didn’t know how to respond to my offer.

No, no. You didn’t hear me. I want to give you $10,000. In cash. But you have to come here and pick it up. Or where can I meet you?

Silence. He hung up. What fun.

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For more information call the Non-Profit Organizations/Public Charities Division of the Attorney General's Office at (617) 727-2200, ext. 2101, or go to mass.gov/orgs/the-attorney-generals-non-profit-organizationspublic-charities-division.