SPLC — 2018 Telemarketing Scam

Earlier this month the Southern Poverty Law Center released its IRS Form 990 tax return, noting that the company took in a staggering $136,373,624 dollars in Fiscal Year 2017 (leaving a paltry “non-profit” of $76,589,303 for the year) and the already-bloated Endowment Fund exploded from $319 million for 2016 to $432 million for 2017, 99.17% of which is “unrestricted” in use.

Page 39 of the document breaks down what the company paid third-party telemarketers for the year. As usual, the amount paid to the telemarketers far exceeded the amount of money raised over the phone in the name of “fighting hate.”

2017 Telemarketers

The SPLC paid four third-party telemarketing companies $3,177,807 donor-dollars to raise only $1,801,207 donor-dollars on its behalf.

This leaves a shortfall of $1,376,600.

As usual, this means that not only did every dime raised from unsuspecting first-time donors go directly to the telemarketers, but thousands upon thousands of longtime donors got tapped to pick up the shortfall without ever realizing it.

How many people does it take to mop up a seven-digit deficit? At $100 dollars a pop, 13,766 loyal, longtime donors. At a more reasonable $25 dollar donation, just over 55,000 suckers.

How can a private advocacy group afford this kind of horrific hemorrhaging year after year? It’s quite simple. The SPLC takes a minor financial hit each year to get the names and addresses of thousands of proven first-time donors. They feed this information into their own huge, uber-efficient in-house fundraising machine and the future donations will roll in for years, if not decades, to come. As the old saying goes, “It takes money to make money.”

Granted, the SPLC is not the only non-profit to engage in this kind of thing, and all donors have a responsibility to ask any telemarketers how much of their donation will actually reach the organization in question.

We at Watching the Watchdogs feel that the public ought to see the real numbers and see for themselves where their money actually goes.

The “Financial Information” page on the SPLC website makes the claim that “During the last fiscal year, approximately 68% of our total expenses were spent on program services.”

That’s a noble goal, and when you look at Line 16b on Page 2 of the Form 990, you see that the company spent 21% of those expenses on out-and-out fundraising. When you add in the $12 million in “joint costs,” those fundraising costs attributed to other departments (“Management” spent just over $1,000,000 on postage, for example) found on Line 26 of Page 11, however, you find that the SPLC spent 41% of its budget on fundraising right off the top.

When you figure in salaries, facilities costs and all of the other expenses of running a company with more than 300 employees, it’s pretty hard to see how 68% of expenses went to “program services.”

In the long run, most of the donors don’t really care. They each have their own concept of “fighting hate” and their canceled donation check or SPLC bumper sticker allows them to virtue signal to the world how wonderful they are.

In short, the donors are buying a product that the Southern Poverty Law Center is only too happy to sell them.

Caveat emptor.

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