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Sunday, August 7, 2011

A Questionable Autism Charity

Jane Anlauf thought she was helping a worthy cause. When an organization called the Autism Spectrum Disorder Foundation (ASDF) called the 81-year-old Minnetonka woman in May, she agreed to solicit contributions from her friends and neighbors on their behalf.

But if the organization's IRS filing for 2009 is any indication, the fruits of her labor will mainly be used to pay for marketing material and worker wages at two national telemarketing call centers.

Anlauf received glossy literature and donation forms from the tax-exempt charity. She used her own stamps to send the material to her friends. She collected checks and mailed them in.

Her first indication that something might be amiss was when she called the Autism Society of Minnesota seeking the ASDF's address so she could forward a neighbor's late check. She was surprised to be told they had received a number of complaints about ASDF.

Based on the reports received so far, "we're not aware that any [ASDF] dollars are going to people living with autism," according to spokesperson Shannon Andreson. "We have been telling people to contact the attorney general's office.

The ASDF has been a thorn in the side of the Autism Society of America as well. According to society president Scott Badesch, telemarketers for ASDF have been falsely telling potential donors that they are either associated with the society or that the society endorses their work. The society has sent them two cease-and-desist orders.

"We don't do any soliciting over the phone," Badesch said. Nor does the Minnesota chapter, according to Andreson.

Also see previous coverage of the "charity" at Nonprofit Quarterly, the Neurodiversity Weblog, and the Autism Society.