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Door-to-door solicitors raise skepticism

Express investigates local charity

When a woman showed up at Lissa Anderson's door in Danville soliciting money to help troubled young people who'd gotten too old for the foster care system, Anderson had some reservations, but she made a $100 donation anyway.

"My very first meeting with her was when she came to my door and rang the doorbell and it was late — it was after 9 o'clock," Anderson said. "She went on to say she was with a program called Mr. Mom that helps children with foster care organizations that had been kicked out because they were too old, they were on the street. They were putting them up in hotel rooms, they were trying to get them jobs."

Anderson gave $100. The second time, two weeks later, Anderson said she'd just put her kids to bed and was settled in for the night; her husband answered the door and Anderson told him she wasn't sure she trusted Mr. Mom; her husband, however, gave another $100.

The third time, Anderson said she was having a tough day when the woman showed up in her driveway after dark.

"I just said, 'It is so inappropriate for you to be out this time of night,'" Anderson said. "She left (but) she came back 20 minutes later. She said, 'Whatever you can give me, we're just $125 short of our goal for what we need to raise for the night.'... She just kept going and going. ... I burst into tears."

Anderson, a Danville resident, is not alone in questioning the practices of Mr. Mom and other door-to-door solicitors raising money for needy causes.

Police say they occasionally receive calls from residents concerned about the legitimacy of door-to-door solicitors.

In a recent discussion on the Pleasanton Weekly's Town Square reader forum, one resident asked others to share their experiences with Mr. Mom and quickly received numerous replies from those who had been solicited. After unsuccessfully asking the Weekly to remove the posts, Denise Dinsmore, who describes herself as the co-founder and primary fundraiser of Mr. Mom, posted her own long explanation stating that her organization is legitimate and working hard to serve troubled kids.

Dinsmore has declined to answer questions from the Weekly, including requests for the names of the agencies or individuals who have benefited from Mr. Mom. She claims to have the required local permits to solicit and to have complied with all state laws. But according to city and state officials interviewed by the Weekly and documents on file with the state Attorney General, the group only last month obtained a business license in Pleasanton and state approval to solicit funds. Neither Danville nor San Ramon has any record of Mr. Mom applying for a business license.

All localities in the area require a charity to have a business license. In some cases, such as San Ramon and Dublin, charities must receive special permission from the police department to solicit door-to-door.

In the case of Mr. Mom, officials in San Ramon and Dublin told the Weekly that the group has not been issued permits for door-to-door soliciting and are violating local ordinances if they are doing so.

"They are required to get a business license, but if they have a 501 (c)(3), they don't have to pay for it," said Debbie Hinc, an office technician in San Ramon's planning department.

Sue Wallace, an administrative analyst with the San Ramon Police Department, said charities must prove their legitimacy by providing a letterhead with a supervisor's name and contact information as well other official documents in order to solicit donations door to door.

In Danville, any charity looking to do business should register with the town, according to Finance Director Elizabeth Hudson.

"They should, one, be getting a business license, and two get a permit so they can go door to door," Hudson said. "We have the county issue the permit and then, if we get any complaints, we have police go out to investigate."

San Ramon, Danville and Pleasanton all prohibit any solicitations after dark, but there is a constitutional question that comes into play with enforcing the after dark restriction, according to Pleasanton Assistant City Attorney Larissa Seto.

"Technically, if an organization or person involved in a protected speech activity (such as charities and political organizations) wants to go to homes after 8 p.m., we cannot stop them. We can only encourage them to come back during more regular hours," Seto said. "In theory if the person at the home asks them not to come back, they should not come back because that would be trespassing."

A resident who feels harassed or threatened should call police.

"What we do when it comes to enforcement -- if we get a call, we run them off, give them a citation, whatever. It's complaint based," said Danville Police Chief Steve Simpkins.

The Mr. Mom Non-Profit Organization has been raising money in the area since 2008, according to a registration statement filed last month with the state. The group admitted in a signed stipulation agreement that it had violated state requirements by not filing proper reports since it initially solicited donations. With the filing of the registration statement and catch-up reports, the group, which lists a Pleasanton mail drop as its address, was cleared to resume fundraising by the state on April 22.

Registration with the state Registry of Charitable Trusts is required of any charity, but does not mean an organization has obtained its 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status from the IRS. Mr. Mom has no such IRS exemption, although Dinsmore said such an application is pending with the IRS. Dinsmore cites a "501(c) (3) non-profit number" in [handouts that is actually the Federal Employer Identification Number assigned to Mr. Mom.

California law permits an individual or organization raising less than $25,000 a year for a charitable purpose to operate with few constraints as long as it registers and files a short annual report. Such groups, or even individuals, don't even need to be nonprofit organizations.

For small groups, the state has no way of monitoring how funds are spent. Detailed expenditure reports are not required, but state officials refer questions to the IRS website, which lists all tax-exempt charities including detailed information on where their money is spent.

"By law, the (group or) person has a duty to use that property for its intended charitable purpose," said Rebecca MacLaren of the state Attorney General's office in an emailed statement. "If you solicit and accept money for a charity, you're responsible for making sure it gets used for those purposes. Failure to do so may subject the solicitor to personal liability for the amount received."

Those who've met Dinsmore describe her as a "sweet" 20-something who can be quite persistent.

It was this persistence that prompted another woman, who asked that her name not be used, to give Dinsmore between $1,000 and $2,000 since 2008. She added that many of her neighbors have also contributed.

"This woman — she seemed very honest. She would show up at my house at 11 o'clock (at night)," the woman went on. "She would say she hasn't met their daily quota, there were times she told me that if they didn't meet their daily quota, they'd have to kick a kid out."

The woman said the last straw came recently when Dinsmore asked that the couple contribute their entire year's donation in advance.

In her posting on Town Square, Dinsmore said Mr. Mom is soliciting donations to fulfill a financial commitment to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.

However, Jan Still-Lindeman, senior director of public relations for the national office, said there's no affiliation between Mr. Mom and the Boys and Girls Clubs, and that clubs don't endorse door-to-door solicitations. Local Boys and Girls clubs contacted by the Weekly said they have never heard of the organization.

Dinsmore would not provide information on how the funds she raises are spent, but in her Town Square posting she said she is helping a "very small number of kids that have aged out of foster care" and that "we also assist non foster care kids that are in desperate need of financial support."

None of the several foster care agencies in Alameda or Contra Costa counties contacted by the Weekly, however, had heard of Mr. Mom.

"Donors have to be proactive and make sure they know who they're giving money to," said Belinda James, head of the state's charitable trust section of the Attorney General's office. "What's important is not to give impulsively but to check out the name and make sure the charity appears in our website and make sure that it's current in reporting to us. That's a red flag, if the charity isn't current on reporting to our agency."

James said potential donors should not be afraid to ask questions if someone shows up and asks for money. Ask for written information from whoever is soliciting; any reputable charity will have the answers.

"If a donor is solicited and doesn't know about the charity, the best thing to do is to ask for written information before giving a donation," James said.

Comments

Posted by Terry, a resident of San Ramon
on May 19, 2011 at 7:45 pm

I'm a social worker at a nonprofit organization myself, and I don't contribute to anyone who solicits door to door. I do take information and look them up on Charity Navigator - primarily I want to know that they are legitimate, and I want to know how much of their money goes to serve the population vs. overhead (for example, soliciting funds). If I'm comfortable with what I see, I can mail in a check.

Honestly, I don't think very highly of an organization that would encourage volunteers to solicit donations after dark, therefore potentially jeopardizing their safety. Also, to resort to emotional blackmail ("there were times she told me that if they didn't meet their daily quota, they'd have to kick a kid out.") is reprehensible.

Those in the story above are incredibly kind, and I hope their donations have indeed gone for what they intended.


Posted by T. Pardee, a resident of another community
on May 19, 2011 at 11:17 pm

Social work in the afternoon, not 11pm. Nobody in their right mind would give 1000 dollars to some lady who rings their doorbell that late. Common courtesy, not sob stories! That's how things are in Manteca and the rest of San Joaquin County.


Posted by Tami, a resident of Danville
on May 20, 2011 at 7:48 am

Happened to me twice....Gave a check to a boy from Antioch school district. He wore a student ID card. I had a funny feeling, so I called the school to confirm. No such fund raising with school sports department with Contra Costa Times. Stop payment on that check. They had made fake ID tags. Second time years later....Church came by to help troubled teens, I took the info., looked up the street address. It was an empty lot, no such church. People will do anything. Done. No thanks is what they get now.


Posted by SALLY, a resident of Danville
on May 20, 2011 at 8:29 am

people, come on, just look at all the red flags ! Think first and do not double donate !!


Posted by Duffy, a resident of Danville
on May 20, 2011 at 9:23 am

Don't open the door! "Just leave your material on the doormat and I'll retrieve and look at it tomorrow." They never leave anything which should be your first clue as top the legitimacy of the "charity."


Posted by Jim Sakasian, a resident of Danville
on May 20, 2011 at 10:41 am

I love the blank expression when I say "Obama took all my money...." works every time-----lol!!


Posted by Nancy, a resident of Blackhawk
on May 20, 2011 at 12:03 pm

Sign on my front door

"We can't afford to save any more money"


Posted by Nick, a resident of Danville
on May 20, 2011 at 1:39 pm

To "We can't afford to save any more money" please add "we have been living beyond our means for a long, long time"


Posted by Sherry, a resident of San Ramon
on May 20, 2011 at 2:19 pm

If kind-hearted people would STOP giving to these door-to-door solicitors, perhaps they would stop coming. Instead give to organizations that you know is doing a good job, there are tons out there (e.g. your church, temple, school, SPCA, United Way, Boys & Girls Clubs, CASA, etc., etc., etc.).


Posted by Claudette , a resident of another community
on May 20, 2011 at 4:17 pm

I'd rather give to someone who says they are hungry, than to give to solicitors because it's very hard to tell who is legit. Sometimes I see vans dropping off people to solicit... I always ask to see their city license and most don't have one. That's when I say "Sorry no license,no money."


Posted by Julia, a resident of Alamo
on May 20, 2011 at 4:28 pm

I can't believe what I just read...I know you folks in Danville are great giving people...but please folks, wake up and know when you are being screwed with. You all make me laugh...give and give and give as long as it's for the children. Wake up folks. I can understand the lady of the house giving...but the husband. WOW...

Give me your address, I wild like to feed some small birds that land on my deck every morning...they are morning doves...oh yes I feed them but maybe you would like to give me $100.00 to help feed them.

I can't believe all this BS

Julia from Alamo


Posted by Tim, a resident of Danville
on May 20, 2011 at 4:56 pm

Hey Julia,

Why do you understand the lady of the house giving but not the man?

Sounds pretty sexist coming from a woman


Posted by Derek, a resident of Danville
on May 20, 2011 at 7:36 pm

Here's my simple secret folks: Tell the solicitor that you are on the phone with a client. In my case, it happens to be true maybe 25% of the time, but no matter - it gets rid of them. If the doorbell rings later that same day, use the peep hole.


Posted by Pedal Power, a resident of Danville
on May 20, 2011 at 9:32 pm

Peep holes...a good tip for those with kids old enough to open the door but not tall enough to see through the main peep hole is to add a second peep hole lower down. Then make it very clear that they are never to open the door for the sort of people mentioned in this excellent article.


Posted by Rose, a resident of Danville
on May 20, 2011 at 10:45 pm

I can't imagine opening the door to any stranger after dark! Handing over $100.00 not once but twice???? Good Lord, no wonder the words out!! Easy mark Danville!!


Posted by Terry, a resident of San Ramon
on May 21, 2011 at 7:43 am

The donors in the article who so generously contributed to what they thought was (and what might in fact be) a worthy cause don't deserve ridicule. Who knows whether this charity it legitimate or not? Some legitimate charities who do great things don't have the most savvy people running them. It is really sad, as they will go to great lengths to secure donations, which tarnishes the act of giving for the next legitimate charity.

That said, if this organization has been around for 3 years, that is ample time to recruit a board of directors to assist with identifying a strategic plan, raising funds, getting positive media exposure, etc. Absent a working Board, donations might be better if offered to a similar organization that has a better chance of surviving and building a lasting non-profit.


Posted by sponge_bob_roundpants, a resident of Danville
on May 23, 2011 at 10:11 am

Are you serious? Mr. Mom??? Good lord, you people are gullible.
Crummy movie at that.
Incredibly kind? I think you meant incredibly blind.
And Julia, you astonish me. You've become very bitter in your old age. Wow, those rose-colored glasses sure have changed.


Posted by Julia, a resident of Alamo
on May 24, 2011 at 10:29 am

Yep...you are so correct bob. I have become very bitter and I don't think I ever had rose colored glasses. I can't stand all the bleeding hearts, and all the gullible folks. I also agree with you about the incredibly blind comment.

Thanks bob for your input, Julia


Posted by Derek, a resident of Danville
on May 24, 2011 at 12:44 pm

@ Sponge Bob
Julia was never overly kind, being the wallet-clutching, environment-hating Hannity worshiper that she is, but I do believe she may be entering into that unfortunate time of life when one starts getting hot flashes and things just aren't looking uphill anymore.
I can be snarky too and there are definitely a few deserving people on these boards I enjoy messing with, but hopefully people understand it's all in jest. Unless I'm talking about someone like Joseph Cefalou, or this kiddy-diddling cop who was just handed a slap on the wrist. Then I'm just plain mean too!


Posted by scott cranner, a resident of San Ramon
on Jun 30, 2011 at 7:43 pm

what these mr mom people are doing is called canvassing. canvassers go door to door because they cant afford to advertise and they usually dont have the money to open a bunch of retail stores. ive been a canvasser off an on for the last few years so my guess is that this organization probably doesnt make alot of money doing fund raising so they go door to door to make extra money, because trust me nobody goes door to door unless they are desperate. its one of the hardest jobs you do because you have to work early in the morning till late at night everyday, no matter how hot or how much its raining. if you dont work you dont get paid, and most people just slam the door in your face because they get mad that you are at there house uninvited. so if these people are not selling nothing and they are just trying to raise donations for kids i think thats cool. at least they believe in there cause enough to go canvassing and get donations because door to door is really hard work. im sitting here writing this because im bored and jobless because the last outside sales job i had, had to shut down because we couldnt sell the products door to door. [portion removed due to a violation of terms of use]


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