I-Team Report: In Your Face

September 19, 2012 (CHICAGO)

ABC7 investigative reporter Chuck Goudie has been looking into who they are and the tactics they use.

From State Street, across the Loop and up and down the Magnificent Mile, they come right at you.

Some people ignore, others avoid, a few stop.

"They're very pushy, and I don't see how it can be effective for them, I mean, because it put me off right away," said Carmen Steele, passerby.

They are soliciting funds for an organization called Children International.

"So, what's the pitch? What are you selling?" ABC7's Chuck Goudie asked a female solicitor recently. "We're not selling anything. We're kind of sponsoring kids, saving children's lives all over the world," she said. "How do you do that?" Goudie asked. "We talk to them," before her colleague interrupted, saying, "We're not supposed to answer any questions."

When the I-Team showed up, solicitors stopped soliciting and a supervisor called in our presence.

"I can't do this on the camera. We're not supposed to be filmed or be interviewed on behalf of the charity," the supervisor told the I-Team.

"If you want to talk to anybody you have to talk to the Dialogue Direct people in New York. I just checked," the supervisor told the I-Team. "Because you don't work for the charity, do you?" Goudie asked. "No, no, no. We're a third party company."

They don't actually work for Children International. The street solicitors work for a company called Dialogue Direct. Children International says Dialogue Direct is paid for each donor they sign up on the street.

According to the charity's federal tax filings, Children International paid Dialogue Direct more than $6 million last year for its fundraising efforts.

One solicitor told the I-Team that their daily quota is to sign up three donors. On Dialgue Direct's Facebook page, solicitors are heralded for exceeding that.

"These people don't even work for this organization," said passerby Steele. "They're like guns for hire out there to get the money for them."

Neither the solicitation firm nor the charity would speak on camera concerning what they call "face-to-face" campaigning. On their websites and in emails, both tout the effectiveness of such fundraising through "consistent & straightforward messaging on a personal level." That isn't the case when it comes to dealing with news crews. When the cameras showed up, they took off their vests and walked away.

Two years ago the Washington state attorney general settled a complaint against Dialogue Direct, after charging the for-profit company with misrepresenting its role while fundraising for Children International.

No complaints have been filed with the Illinois attorney general.

As for the charity itself, Children International would not disclose how much of each $25 sponsorship actually goes to the child.

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