But a select few are horrible. Really, they're not even charities. They are organizations established under the auspices of charitable giving but they really only serve the people who run them.
Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster recently won a suit against Jeffery Duncan and Kathy Clinkenbeard, both of California, for soliciting in Missouri on behalf of three scam charities: Coalition of Police and Sheriffs, Inc. (COPS), Disabled Firefighters Fund, Inc. (DFF), and American Veterans Relief Foundation, Inc. (AVRF). The AG's office found that less than 5% of the funds raised by these 'charities' went to help the police, firefighters, and veterans they purportedly served.
The BBB's Standard is that no more than 35% of funds raised by an organization be used for fundraising expenses. Additionally, at least 65% of an organization's expenses must be program expenses. All organizations have administrative and fundraising costs - I would strongly question any organization that implies that it doesn't - but those costs must be reasonable.
I hate talking about charity scams because most charities are good organizations run by honest, well-meaning people. As donors, it is prudent that you ask questions of any organization that seeks your financial support. If you receive a solicitation call, you have a right to know if the caller is a professional fundraiser hired by the organization and what percentage of your donation will actually go to the charity. It is not uncommon for professional fundraisers to take 80% or more of the money collected from phone solicitations. You should also know how a charity allocates its expenses among program, administration, and fundraising.
For more information on giving wisely to police and firefighter organizations, check out these BBB tips.