A Hernando County firefighters union correctly extinguished its working relationship with a New Port Richey telemarketing company.
Unless the soliciting company curbs its exorbitant overhead, we encourage others to follow the lead of the Hernando County Professional Firefighters Local 3760, the membership of which voted unanimously to terminate its ties with Bay Area Council Inc.
Multiple firefighting associations in Pasco, Hernando and other counties use the telemarketing company to raise money for charitable work, but the public learned in December that the Bay Area Council pocketed 84 percent of the donated money. In 2007, the company kept more than $400,000 of the $470,000 residents contributed to benefit firefighting groups in Spring Hill, New Port Richey, Zephyrhills, Pasco, Hernando and other counties. That meant just 16 cents of every donated dollar went for charity.
It's absurd. The Better Business Bureau standard calls for no more than 35 percent of contributions to be used for overhead and fundraising expenses. Many groups spend significantly less. The United Way of Pasco, for instance, identifies its administrative and fundraising costs at 23 percent. People opening their wallets to support what they believe to be a worthwhile charity should have confidence most of their contribution is actually doing good work, not financing an overpriced call center.
Bay Area Council drew scrutiny from state legislators in December when Ron Wegner of Hudson brought the group's fundraising tactics to the attention of Sen. Mike Fasano. Wegner, going through his mother's mail, discovered a $30 invoice, resembling a bill, payable to the Spring Hill Association of Firefighters and Paramedics. Wegner believed Bay Area Council acted unscrupulously by using deceptive mail to target his 94-year-old mother, a resident of a Spring Hill assisted living facility, and other senior citizens. It's hard to argue with his logic considering the disproportionate share of proceeds kept by the company.
Now, the Hernando County firefighters union will go it alone minus the expensive middle man. Last year, the local raised $25,000 on its own, much of which it said it gave to the Muscular Dystrophy Association. By contrast, the Bay Area Council turned over to the local just $4,500. If there was no deviation from its typical overhead formula, the company hoarded $25,500 for itself.
The firefighters were wise to end the charade and distance the union from a company profiteering in the name of charity.