Thursday, September 01, 2011

Charities helping themselves

It's hard to think of something lower than a charity scam that pops up during a crisis, just when people are ready and willing to do anything they can to help. This article is about several of those scam charities that popped up after 9/11. [see Brett Blackledge - AP]

The American Quilt Memorial raised $713,000 to create a giant quilt. Each person killed would have a decorated sheet, and they would all be stitched together and the final version would be big enough to cover 25 football fields. I am not clear on how or where the quilt was to be displayed.

The founder did create a few hundred sheets which remain in storage. About $238,000 went to him and his relatives. He has spent at least $170,000 traveling (mostly with two large dogs in tow) and continued to run up expenses, such as allowing himself $200 a week for a car, plus his rent, loans and "petty" expenses in the tens of thousands. Not only did he squander the money, he appointed an elderly priest as the chairman of the board - something that was done completely without the knowledge of the priest. [video extra]
"If I made a mistake, I made a mistake. If I did, then crucify me. I never said I was a professional at this."
Then there's the 9/11 Garden of Forgiveness at the World Trade Center site, something that never has and never will exist. Rev. Lyndon Harris raised $200,000, paid himself $126,530 (salary) and spent $3,562 in dining expenses.
Harris said he sees his charity's work as a success even if there is no garden at the site. "I saw our mission as teaching about forgiveness," he said.
How about this one:
Urban Life Ministries of Manhattan raised over $4 million for victims and first responders. Only about $670,000 was accounted for on tax forms that it did file (and taxes were not always filed). Rev. Carl Keyes admitted that they did not keep good records of how the money was spent. His accounting skills were similarly bad for his church's Katrina fund.
"You're going to beat me up in an article because we're bad managers?" Keyes said.
Another one mentioned in the article is called The Flag of Honor Fund, which raised $140,000 for a flag containing all the names of the dead, but the funds ended up supporting a for-profit business which sells the flag at Wal-Mart and only donates a tiny portion to charity.

People really do want to help when it's needed, and there are always going to be a good share of predators ready to pocket their donations. If possible, try and look them up on a site like Charity Navigator, The American Institute of Philanthropy, or BBB. I personally avoid giving to anything that has a religious source, because they have an underlying agenda that is part of their nature - they must deliver their message and are used to using donated money for that agenda - but not all scams have a religious source.

Also, people who are going through tragedy do not need ornamental quilts, flags, flowers, mythical gardens or purchased prayers. They need money, housing, food, income, and health care.


Debra She Who Seeks said...

Yeah, I read that article the other day too. People are bastards, eh?

Amber Star said...

I feel like I've come across an oasis. I came from Pearl's place to Cause for Concern and then saw you link on his blog.

I rarely, as in never, donate money to the big disaster things. There are plenty of movie stars who can't wait. I'll bet the scams are why Harry Connick and Brad Pitt have worked closely on the projects they put money into in New Orleans. They lived there and were hands on.

Your blog is an interesting read.

Professor Chaos said...

There's a special place in hell for people who run these charity scams.