After FEMA's denial of additional funds to Texas for the recent wildfire outbreaks, you may be in the giving spirit for volunteer fire departments. But be careful how you go about it; you might be surprised where your donations go.
When you get a phone call from people saying they collect money to give to police or firefighter organizations, they may be telling the truth -- but not the whole truth. Once you ask the person on the phone how much of your donation will go to a volunteer firefighter, you may get some shocking answers.
"In some situations with police and firefighter organizations, as little as 5% of the money you donate actually goes to the organization, if there's one that exists," said Monica Horton, President of the Better Business Bureau of North Central Texas.
Bowman Volunteer Fire Department Captain John Strenski says 5% is nice, but the concept isn't right.
"Every time we have a major catastrophe or a major event, there's folks that want to take advantage of that, and that's really disheartening," he said
"It's constantly happening, but we anticipate even more of it with the recent fires and the strain on the local fire departments," Horton said.
The telemarketers, who may be keeping the rest of the money for themselves, usually call from out of the area and refer to local organizations.
"They don't mention anyone specifically, but they will reference local information to try and get you to make that connection for yourself," Horton said.
Callers may also throw around the term 'tax exempt' to get you to donate, but that's not the same as 'tax-deductible.' The company calling you may indeed be tax-exempt, but that means it doesn't have to pay federal income taxes; it does not necessarily mean you will be able to deduct your donation from your own tax return.
It's better, and often tax-deductible, to donate directly to your organization of choice. Ultimately, Strenski would hate to see anyone pocket ill-gotten means.
"It's upsetting, especially in today's economy. If folks are willing to give money to the volunteer fire departments, we wanna see 100% of that go to the volunteer fire departments," he said.
You can get contact information for local volunteer fire departments from your county's Emergency Manager. Another way to get the money where you want it to go is by donating through the Wichita Falls Area Community Foundation's Rural Fire Department Fund.