Associated Community Services is one of the nation’s largest charity telemarketing firms. “They’d call you for breast cancer in the morning and veterans at night,” said one former employee. Credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

To track how telemarketing companies target donors, the Tampa Bay Times and The Center for Investigative Reporting focused on one company, Associated Community Services, and examined how it did business in one state, Iowa.

Associated Community Services is one of the largest charity fundraisers in the country, according to data compiled by GuideStar, an organization that gathers federal filings by nonprofits. Financial filings by about two dozen of the company’s charity clients show Associated Community Services raised about $40 million nationwide on their behalf in 2011.

Its fundraising efforts in Iowa make up a small fraction of its total collections. The Times and CIR focused on Iowa because that state’s attorney general had subpoenaed internal records from the company as part of its own investigation. Iowa regulators agreed to provide copies of the documents with the names of individual donors redacted.

The Iowa documents list every donation collected by the company’s operators for people who gave 10 times or more.

They also list the dates of each donation, the amount, the charity that received the money and the name of the telephone operator who made the call.

In total, Associated Community Services collected at least 10 donations from nearly 400 Iowans from March 2010 through June 2011.

Over 16 months, those donors were contacted a bare minimum of 5,500 times – the combined number of times they donated. The actual number of calls was far greater, because donors did not give every time they answered the phone.

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Kendall Taggart is a former data reporter at The Center for Investigative Reporting. Her recent project, America's Worst Charities, exposed systemic weaknesses in state and federal oversight of nonprofits. The series, produced in collaboration with the Tampa Bay Times, won the Barlett & Steele Award gold prize. Kendall also was part of the reporting team that uncovered flaws in the way school regulators in California inspect and certify public schools to ensure they are seismically safe. That series, On Shaky Ground, won the public service award from Scripps Howard and two awards from Investigative Reporters & Editors. Kendall is a Massachusetts native and graduate of Reed College. She has lived and worked in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and Trujillo, Peru.

Kris Hundley joined the Tampa Bay Times 17 years ago as a business reporter. She is now a member of the Times’ investigative team.