Save the children, an admirable endeavor.
And if you’ve been to downtown Lawrence in the past couple of months, you may have been asked to help with that goal by red-vested or red-shirted workers soliciting donations for the international nonprofit, Save the Children.
But asking local shoppers downtown for money has irked some in the business community.
“They’re annoying,” said Peter Zacharias, owner of Goldmakers, 723 Mass.
Zacharias said he’s heard complaints from customers, and even sees shoppers cross to the other side of the street to avoid the group.
“They just stop everybody walking down the street,” said Zacharias, who brought up his concerns at a recent listening session with city commissioners.
Lawrence city commissioner Bob Schumm, who owns the downtown restaurants the Dynamite Saloon and Buffalo Bob’s Smokehouse, said he’s also heard complaints about the solicitors.
“It doesn’t help it,” said Schumm when asked about the effect on downtown business.
About Save the Children
According to Save the Children’s IRS forms, the group collected more than $400 million in donations and grants in 2009. The funds are used for programs all over the world, from education programs in Guatemala to disaster relief in tornado-ravaged Joplin, Mo.
Laurie Styron, an analyst for the American Institute of Philanthropy, said her organization has performed an analysis of Save the Children’s financial statements. They’ve found the group is very efficient with their money; 89 percent of funding they collect goes to services.
“They actually get an ‘A’ from us,” she said.
That’s not the whole story, said Styron, citing some concerns specifically about how the group is raising funds in Lawrence.
The workers are paid by an outside contract agency hired by Save the Children, according to the organization’s spokesman, Steven Fisher.
That type of fundraising isn’t very cost-effective, Styron said, because the money donated goes to cover the wages of the workers first, then to the contractor, then to Save the Children. If someone gave to the charity directly — online for instance — more money goes to the charity.
“Sometimes they even lose money,” Styron said. “This charity is breaking even. If they’re lucky.”
Fisher said Save the Children hadn’t heard complaints about the soliciting in Lawrence, but said the organization is sensitive to local concerns.
“We want to know” if there are problems, he said. “We want to make sure we’re working in the community in a way that everyone’s happy.”
City code issues
Nonprofits, or people in general, don’t need a specific license to solicit money in the city, said Toni Wheeler, attorney for the city of Lawrence. Legally, the practice is no different from panhandlers who ask citizens for money. And though the city has heard complaints about both, making any changes to the city code that would prohibit soliciting is an uphill First Amendment battle.
“It’s constitutionally protected conduct,” Wheeler said. City officials looked at requiring panhandlers to get soliciting licenses back in 2009, but legal research highlighted some of those constitutional issues. “It’s difficult to regulate First Amendment speech.”