In Holiday, Florida, sits a warehouse. From the outside, it looks like nothing special, but as a joint investigative report from the Tampa Bay Times and the Center for Investigative Reporting uncovered, inside is one of the most useless charity in America: Kids Wish Network. For every dollar it raises, a mere 3 cents goes to help kids in need. Instead, over the past decade, as the Times finds, “Kids Wish has channeled nearly $110 million donated for sick children to its corporate solicitors. An additional $4.8 million has gone to pay the charity’s founder and his own consulting firms. No charity in the nation has siphoned more money away from the needy over a longer period of time.”
But, sadly, the diversion of charitable donations to corporate solicitors is by no means an isolated event. Nearly 6,000 charities have hired for-profit companies to raise funds on their behalf.
These nonprofits adopt popular causes or mimic well-known charity names that fool donors. Then they rake in cash, year after year.
The nation’s 50 worst charities have paid their solicitors nearly $1 billion over the past 10 years that could have gone to charitable works.
The effort [of combing federal and state records by the Tampa Bay Times and CIR reporters] identified hundreds of charities that run donation drives across the country and regularly give their solicitors at least two-thirds of the take. Experts say good charities should spend about half that much — no more than 35 cents to raise a dollar.
Organizations like Kids Wish defends this practice, saying these fundraising/telemarketing firms ultimately do good by raising funds. But ultimately, donors are being deceived about where money is being diverted to, and that place is, with many charities, solicitation companies. Even worse, these charities have shown to practice nepotism and cronyism, sometimes paying for-profit companies owned by immediate relatives or even the charity’s founder himself. In this sense, and compared to thousands of other upright American charities, they act as nothing more than a front to fund extravagant expenses, such as the non-profit Youth Development Fund.
The Tennessee charity, which came in at No. 12, has been around for 30 years. Over the past decade it has raised nearly $30 million from donors by promising to educate children about drug abuse, health and fitness.
About 80 percent of what’s donated each year goes directly to solicitation companies.
Most of what’s left pays for one thing: scuba-diving videos starring the charity’s founder and president, Rick Bowen.
Bowen’s charity pays his own for-profit production company about $200,000 a year to make the videos. Then the charity pays to air Rick Bowen Deep-Sea Diving on a local Knoxville station. The program makes no mention of Youth Development Fund.
In its IRS tax filings, the charity reports that its programming reaches “an estimated audience of 1.3 million.”
But, according to the station manager, the show attracts about 3,600 viewers a week.
Worst of all, the charities use predatory practices and target the vulnerable like, as the investigation found, the dementia-suffering mother-in-law of Gina Brown. She was milked for over $15,000 in donations without realizing it, confused by mock names such as Cancer Fund of America or Committee for Missing Children. The aforementioned Kids Wish Network is accompanied by Children’s Wish Foundation International, and Wishing Well Foundation as a sound-alike to the reputable, original Make-a-Wish foundation. Additional strategies involve inflating the recorded cost of donations by thousands of percentages to cover up the lack of money spent on actual charity.
So, in all cases, be careful when telemarketers and solicitors ask for charitable donations, as those funds could be going right into the solicitor’s pocket. And check out the full, interactive list on the Time’s website.
“America’s 50 worst charities rake in nearly $1 billion for corporate fundraisers,” Kris Hundley and Kendall Taggart, Times/CIR special report
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