In Saturday's mail came a solicitation from the American Federation of Police and Concerned Citizens, a charity that seeks donations to assist the surviving spouses and children of police officers killed in the line of duty. It includes numerous references to the "MARQUETTE County Area" to make it appear that this is being sponsored or supported by local law enforcement.
When a solicitation like this comes in, how can you know whether it deserves a contribution? The question of whether it is "legitimate" is different. So long as it is organized as a 501-c-3 corporation and has filed the required forms each year, and so long as it does not divert its funds to private hands, a charity is "legal." But many legal charities are not deserving of consideration because they spend the majority of their funds on administrative and fundraising activities instead of the activities that define their missions.
Whenever this question arises, we recommend that you take a look at Charity Navigator, which calls itself "Your Guide to Intelligent Giving." The entry for the AFPCC tells us that it has a rating of 14 out of 70, very low. Its report on what is done with the money:
Program Expenses - 21.8%
Administrative Expenses - 6.0%
Fundraising Expenses - 72.1%
Thus, of every dollar contributed, 72 cents goes to efforts to collect more dollars, and only 22 cents goes to the group's activities. But, to be fair, 6% for administrative expenses is not bad at all.
A very interesting section is at the bottom of the page: links to the entries for "Charities Performing Similar Types of Work." Taking a look at a highly rated charity - the New York City Police Foundation, rated 64.31 out of 70 - we see the following breakdown:
Program Expenses - 86.7%
Administrative Expenses - 7.9%
Fundraising Expenses - 5.2%
So the NYCPF spends more than 86 cents of every dollar raised on its charitable activities.
Charity Navigator is one of several web sites that help to illuminate these issues. Others are: