TODAY | September 12, 2012
>>> donated nearly $300 million last year, but how much of that money actually went to the charities? if a telemarketer was involved, the answer is probably much less than you think. nbc's senior investigator correspondent lisa meyers explains. good morning.
>> reporter: hey, savannah, good morning. next time you get a call from a telemarketer askinging for a donation to a charity or for helping to raise money in the neighborhood, you may want to think twice . documents reveal in campaigns for some of the biggest charities, most of the money actually ended up with the telemarketer. carol patterson had diabetes in her family so when her phone rang last year.
>> hi, mrs. patterson, this is [ no audio ] calling on behalf of the american diabetes association .
>> reporter: she agreed to help, distributing envelopes to neighborhoods and kicking in $20 herself.
>> i thought most of it would go to the american diabetes association .
>> reporter: but recently she was shown documents revealing that almost 80% of the money actually went to the telemarketer. how did you feel when you learned that only 22% of the money had made it to the charity?
>> just surprised, disappointment, almost some anger.
>> reporter: she says she won't be volunteering for this anymore.
>> you just feel like you are betrayed, and it's very upsetting.
>> reporter: the telemarketer involved was infocision management which calls itself the highest quality call center in the world. an investigation by "bloomberg markets" magazine found that a who's who of 30 non-profits have hired infocision and failed to tell donors that telemarketers keep most of the money raised.
>> we found in a four-year period they kept 55% of the money they raised.
>> reporter: infocision is doing so well they could afford $10 million to put its rights on this stadium at the university of akron , now call infocision stadium . susan said that her late husband george paid both the diabetes group and the american cancer society in their neighborhood.
>> he thought he was doing a good thing.
>> reporter: she was stunned to learn in the case of both groups documents indicate that most of the money raised went to the telemarketer.
>> the american people are being duped into doing this, and the money isn't going where you think it's going.
>> reporter: but listen to what potential donors were told when they asked about where their money would go.
>> 75% of every dollar goes directly to serving people with diabetes and their families.
>> well, how much do you guys keep?
>> there's no breakdown as far as that is concerned.
>> reporter: in fact, the contract for this program said only 15% would make it to the charity. professor jim copp says this is deceptive fund raising .
>> this is not ethical. it's a representation that's false.
>> reporter: but vanetta bennett of the american diabetes association says she has no regrets about using the telemarketer.
>> lisa, this program is such a teeny weenie part of what we do. it's about bringing more people into the organization.
>> reporter: so you don't think any of this is misleading?
>> i do not.
>> reporter: not even when you know in this program that it stipulates in your contract that 85% of the money is going to a telemarketer. why not tell the donor that?
>> well, because it's not really true.
>> reporter: it is true.
>> when you think about what the organization does. with this campaign, it is true, but that's not indicative of the organization and the good work we do.
>> reporter: she says of the $205 million raised overall last year, most without telemarketers, 73% did go for diabetes research and programs. what do you say to donors who feel duped?
>> i say thank you if you gave your gift. it's making a difference. every single penny makes a positive impact.
>> reporter: but that doesn't satisfy carol or susan.
>> you find out more and more that what you think are good guys aren't the good guys anymore.
>> reporter: the american cancer society says it has not engaged in unethical behavior but no longer uses infocision saying telemarketing campaigns are more expensive but that overall 72% of all its contributions went to fight cancer. infocision says it provides value and integrity to its clients, some who have been with the firm for more than two decades. savannah.
>> lisa myers in our washington newsroom, thank you.