BBB Wise’s “Truth in Advertising” Initiative

Charities, especially the targets of past complaints, will receive greater scrutiny for the truthfulness of their advertising by the nonprofit group BBB Wise Giving Alliance (BBB Wise), which is the Better Business Bureau’s charity watchdog arm.

Speaking at the recent National Association of State Charity Officials’ conference, BBB Wise president H. Art Taylor said the organization is concerned that some fundraising firms engaged by nonprofits aren’t adhering to the “truth in advertising” standards developed by the Better Business Bureau and that some nonprofits are failing to properly oversee the outside firms’ work. Exaggerations of financial need, fundraising appeals that look like invoices and inaccurate financial ratio references reportedly are among past transgressions.

The BBB Wise “truth in advertising” initiative emphasizes the responsibility of boards of directors, who will be asked to answer questions about “bad fundraising agreements, misleading copy and overly aggressive tactics,” Taylor said. The initiative also will entail requesting samples, such as fundraising copy, from charities. And, according to Taylor, for those charities that have been the subject of “significant inquiry and complaint,” the watchdog group will “request and review every single direct mail and telemarketing script used in the past year to verify the accuracy of appeal content.”

Taylor also presented several “tips” for strengthening boards’ fundraising oversight, including:

  • Getting competitive bids from fundraising firms
  • Reviewing every major fundraising agreement along with each direct mail piece and all fundraising copy
  • Requiring periodic updates of fundraising campaign results

Boards also should make sure their charities are using multiple methods to raise funds in case one tactic fails.