Run Monkey Run!

gorilla-runDid you have a happy Halloween? Not me. I made the mistake of attending the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade and found myself in the midst of the boob warfare that was being waged on the streets of New York City. Let’s just say that’s not a lot of fun for a girl whose only ammunition is at home in her sock drawer.

But happily 1,061 residents of Denver, Colorado made far better use of the holiday. Setting a new Guinness Book World Record, these folks donned gorilla costumes and ran 3.5 miles for the Denver Gorilla Run to raise money for the Mountain Gorilla Conservation Fund, which continues the work of noted gorilla lady, Dian Fossey.

The charity run charges first time participants $100 to enter the race – part of the cost of which goes to the purchase of a gorilla suit (presumably not made of real gorillas), and each entrant is asked to raise at least $300. Don’t know exactly how much was made this year, but suffice to say, that kind of money can buy a lot of bananas.

So, aside from the great image of 1000+ people running the streets of the Mile High City dressed as great apes, why are we interested in this story? Well, because as the end of the year approaches, traditionally the time when we all get an uptick in charitable donation junk mail and phone solicitations, it’s important to realize that not all charities are created equal. In fact, not all so-called charities are really raising money for charities at all. Unfortunately, many of those phone calls you get from organizations are really only putting money in the telemarketers pockets.

As we discuss in our book, SO SUE ME, JACKASS!: Avoiding Legal Pitfalls That Can Come Back to Bite You at Work at Home and at Play, The attorney general of Tennessee discovered that of the $11 million raised by telemarketers on behalf of charitable operations, the telemarketers kept $8 million for themselves.  In fact, the Federal Trade Commission initiated a campaign entitled “Operation Phoney Philanthropy” designed to stop scamming telemarketers.

Of course we’re not trying to dissuade you from donating to the causes of your choice—in fact, we encourage that! Give till it hurts!—but we want you to be sure that the money is actually going where you believe it is. So if you get a phone call during dinner hour, ask the following questions:

  • Ask for identification and the name of the company the person on the phone actually works for.
  • Ask how the money you give will be distributed and what percent of your gift will actually go to the charity on whose behalf you are being solicited.
  • Be skeptical if someone thanks you for a pledge you don’t remember making. It’s a common ploy used by telemarketers to make you think you’ve given money in the past.
  • Know the difference between tax exempt and tax deductible. Even if the organization is tax exempt, it doesn’t mean that the dollars you give to the telemarketer will be tax deductible. If you choose to give, ask if your donation will be tax deductible and ask to get a receipt so you can deduct it.
  • Finally, if you’re still uncertain if the charity is on the up-and-up, two helpful watchdog Web sites are www.give.org and www.guidestar.org, and you can check these resources to see where organizations are spending your donation dollars.

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