Category Archives: Charity Check

Charity Check: The University of Connecticut Foundation

by Categorized: Charity Check, Transparency/FOI, UConn Date:

The University of Connecticut Foundation is back in the news and back at the Capitol for the perennial tug-of-war over opening the foundation’s books. In the last two legislative sessions,
lawmakers have introduced bills that would subject the fundraising arm of the university to the Freedom of Information Act and allow the Auditors of Public Accounts to review the foundation’s finances.

Those bills went nowhere. But this year, a dramatically watered-down version of the legislation has UConnFoundationLogobeen introduced that would require the foundation to release a laundry list of documents – most of which are already public by state or federal law. Perhaps the most significant change involves the disclosure of how many disbursements the foundation makes for various categories of support, including scholarships and endowed professorships and program support – although the university already reports the total amount spent on those categories.

A second bill, for which a public hearing is scheduled tomorrow, March 18th, would require the foundation to release information on its financial support for faculty and staff (though the bill’s wording leaves it unclear whether that would require more disclosure than the university already makes). And the legislation would make public the names of people and companies donating to the foundation – unless the donor requests secrecy.  If that bill passes, it will be particularly interesting to see how the foundation implements that provision.

Click here or the chart below to download our full Charity Check report on the University of Connecticut Foundation (which will open as a Word document). And click the image at bottom to download the foundation’s most recent tax return.

Click here for full Charity Check

UConn Foundation tax form

Charity Check: The National Football League

by Categorized: Charity Check Date:

You read that headline correctly.

The National Football League, the mega-moneyed organization behind this Sunday’s sports extravaganza, is eligible for The Scoop’s Charity Check feature as a bona fide, IRS-approved non-profit organization. It just happens to be one with a $30-million boss.

The NFL is not a traditional donor-funded 501(c)(3) charity – so no, your football tickets (and any other funds you might be inclined to give them) are not tax-deductible. But the organization with a $300 million budget – and that managed 32 team checkbooks that doled out more than $4 billion last year – is a tax-exempt non-profit, under 501(c)(6) of the tax code, which covers business leagues, chambers of commerce, real estate boards, boards of trade and, since 1966, “professional football leagues.”

Click the NFL logo below to read our report on the NFL’s latest tax filing, and the “Continue Reading” link to see the actual filing. And click here to view past Charity Checks.

Click here to read our Charity Check report Continue reading

Charity Check: Marine Toys for Tots Foundation

by Categorized: Charity Check Date:

They start cropping up in October, and by Thanksgiving, the landscape is awash in white-and-red cardboard boxes beckoning shoppers to drop off gifts for the Marine Toys for Tots program. Last year, nearly 17 million presents ended up in those boxes – a toy donated every half-second somewhere in America – with a combined value of nearly a quarter-billion dollars. 

Local volunteers collect, warehouse, categorize and distribute the gifts, and the whole operation is supported by the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, located not far from the Quantico Marine Corps base in Virginia.

The foundation, run entirely by ex-Marines, manages a  big logistical operation – and pays a few big salaries to match.

Click the chart below for our full Charity Check report on the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation. And scroll down for the group’s most recent tax return.

Download (PDF, 1.89MB)


Charity Check: National Veterans Services Fund

by Categorized: Charity Check, Non-profits Date:

Is the Darien-based National Veterans Services Fund one of the worst charities in America? A new rating by the the well-respected group Charity Navigator suggests that by some measures, it could be a contender for that dubious distinction.

We’ve written about the National Veterans Services Fund before. The non-profit, run for more than a decade by Phillip Kraft, has generated about $70 million in donations in the last decade, but only a small fraction of the money was actually spent on charitable services. In the year ending June 30, 2012, well-meaning donors gave nearly $9 million to the fund. But as much as 84 cents of every dollar donated went back to the professional fundraiser.

Charity Navigator gives the National Veterans Services Fund zero stars – as it has for each of the last nine years. That record put the Fund in the No. 1 spot of a new list of “10 Consistently Low Rated Charities” published by the rating group.

“These ten charities have earned the most consecutive 0-star, ‘extremely poor’ ratings meaning they consistently perform far below industry standards and below nearly all similar charities.,” Charity Navigator reports. Not surprisingly, charities that claim to help children and law enforcement are heavily represented on the list, as those heart-string causes are commonly used in fundraising campaigns that deliver only a pittance to the non-profit group.

There are non-profits on the list that provide little to no true charitable services. But that is not the case with the National Veterans Services Fund. Kraft, who collects a six-figure salary, says he and three other workers – one full-time and two part-time – have helped thousands of warriors pay their bills and navigate the Veterans Administration. He wishes fundraising costs didn’t deplete 80 percent or more of the millions donated, but says he and his crew lack the resources and expertise to raise money on their own.

“To blame a charity for the price charged by our fundraisers is like blaming a driver for the price of gas,” he said.

Kraft said his small operation has picked up the tab for everything from wheelchairs to utility bills to dentures, and has paid for temporary housing for down-on-their luck vets. But under the charity’s lopsided fundraising, every dollar it spends requires more than $5 in donations. So a wheelchair with a $175 pricetag costs donors to the charity nearly $1,000. And covering Kraft’s $118,800 salary requires more than $600,000 in donations.

Still, Kraft is unapologetic, saying those pricey fundraising contracts are the only way for him to stay in business.

“A small percentage of something is better than 100 percent of nothing,” he said.

Click the chart above for our full Charity Check report on the National Veterans Services Fund. And see below for the group’s most recent tax return.

Download (PDF, 1.26MB)

Charity Check: Connecticut Public Broadcasting

by Categorized: Charity Check, Education, Media, Non-profits, UConn Date:

Connecticut Public Television lost its lucrative deal last month to broadcast the UConn women’s basketball games, a gut-punch that left worried employees moping in the hallways, CEO Jerry Franklin told the Connecticut Post. It also has observers wondering about the finances of parent organization Connecticut Public Broadcasting, which operates CPTV along with WNPR, the state’s public-radio station.

Once a blip on the airwaves, CPBN has grown into a $20 million-a-year operation, and the membership dues and corporate sponsorships spawned by the UConn deal were major drivers. That money is now in jeopardy, even as CPBN is moving ahead with some aggressive — and potentially risky — expansion plans. Most notably, the network has a multimillion-dollar deal to develop lab space at its Asylum Hill headquarters for the Hartford school system’s Journalism and Media Academy. While officials believe the partnership will eventually pay off, Franklin has said CPBN may have to take out a bank loan if the network is unable to raise enough upfront money.

The station has also faced the loss of recurring state aid for operating expenses, although it did receive a $1 million state grant for transmission and broadcast equipment last year, and underwriting contracts with the Department of Public Health provided $450,000 more.

And if all that weren’t enough financial plates for Franklin to keep spinning, a union leader and members of the Connecticut Citizens Action Group picketed the station Tuesday in advance of a board meeting, protesting the recent layoff of three television production workers and a fourth employee who worked on the network’s website. The small band of activists held six signs — half of which took direct aim at Franklin’s salary.

Meg Sakellarides, CPBN’s chief financial officer, said the network has requested a meeting with union officials to discuss alternatives to the layoffs. “CPTV has a stronger than ever commitment to local programming. However, funding for much of it is still speculative. It would be irresponsible to maintain fixed costs that cannot be covered by confirmed revenues,” Sakellarides said in a statement. “If the planned layoffs cannot be avoided, CPTV’s collective bargaining agreement allows for workers to be recalled as funding is secured and that would be our hope.”

In the statement, Sakellarides also noted that “cuts and sacrifices are being made across the board with many senior managers doubling up and assuming the responsibilities of managers who have left but have not been replaced.”

To see how Connecticut Public Broadcasting fared in the last fiscal year, click the summary chart below to access our Charity Check report, which provides background on the organization and details on its revenue and expenses.

CharityCheck: Goodwill Industries International and National Federation of the Blind

by Categorized: Charity Check, Employment, Non-profits, Politics Date:

Goodwill Industries, a highly rated charity best known for the thousands of thrift shops run by its network of local affiliates, finds itself on the defensive after recent complaints that the group pays disabled workers as little as $1.44 an hour.

Goodwill Industries participates in a U.S. Department of Labor program that permits employers to pay physically and mentally disabled workers less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. That has drawn ire from the National Federation of the Blind, which supports legislation to phase out the program.

“Goodwill Industries is one of the most well-known and lucrative charitable organizations in the United States, yet it chooses to pay its workers with disabilities less than the federal minimum wage,” said Marc Maurer, president of the federation. “That Goodwill Industries exploits many of its workers in this way is ironic, because its president and chief executive officer is blind.  Goodwill cannot credibly argue that workers with disabilities are incapable of doing productive work while paying its blind CEO over half a million dollars a year.”

Maurer acknowledges that use of the federal program is widespread, but said many nonprofit organizations with disabled workers have transitioned to paying all of their employees the minimum wage or higher. His organization has called for a boycott of Goodwill.

Goodwill says about 7,300 of its 105,000 employees are paid under the Department of Labor program, which permits employers to pay “commensurate wages”  – essentially the prevailing pay for the job, discounted by the extent to which an employee’s disability affects his or her ability to do the work. The program “enables Goodwill and thousands of other employers to provide opportunities to people with severe disabilities who otherwise might not be part of the workforce,” Goodwill said in a statement.

While the two nonprofits duke it out, click on the links below for a look at the finances of each group.

Charity Check: Veterans Support Organization

by Categorized: Charity Check, Non-profits Date:

Connecticut’s entire Congressional delegation sent a letter this week to the chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, urging the watchdog agency to investigate the Veterans Support Organization, a Rhode Island-based nonprofit that has raised millions of dollars, much of it via camouflage-clad solicitors who stand outside grocery stores and other shops.

The unusual letter was in response to complaints by officials with the Veterans of Foreign Wars, who are concerned that VSO is employing solicitors who claim to be volunteers, but are actually paid a commission based on the money they bring in. The senators and House members also expressed alarm at the group’s finances, noting that VSO collected $5.8 million in fiscal year 2010, but spent only $379,000 on grants to veterans and veteran groups.

“We urge the FTC to continue to prosecute sham charities and protect the credibility and effectiveness of legitimate nonprofit organizations that really help America’s heroes,” the delegation wrote.

Several years ago, the Courant ran a lengthy investigation of veterans charity, noting their inefficiency and identifying those that spent pennies on the dollar — and in some cases, less than a penny on the dollar — for charitable purposes.

So how does the Veterans Support Organizations stack up? It’s a complicated question, because the way the charity keeps its books, it counts all of the commissions paid to those solicitors – reportedly up to 30 percent – as part of an “on-the-job training program” for down-on-their-luck veterans and others.

As a result, the group in fiscal year 2010 claimed to spend not one penny on fundraising expenses, and attributed 70 percent of its $5.7 million in spending to that job-training program, which was also the source of virtually all of its fundraising. That purported jobs program has come under fire not only for allegations that solicitors falsely claim they are volunteers, but also because some have given the false impression they are military veterans. The nonprofit in fiscal 2010 spent more than $70,000 on uniforms — which it also classified as a charitable program expense — and in recent years solicitors have generally been dressed in fatigues, camouflage or khakis when collecting money.

The Veterans Support Organization has also run afoul of charity laws in Tennessee, leading to a negotiated $20,000 settlement. And consumer reporter Arnold Diaz sent an undercover producer to interview solicitors last year, and caught them making false claims about how the group spends its money.

Despite the controversies, it’s a lucrative operation for founder Richard Van Houten. In fiscal year 2009, he collected $120,000 as chief executive officer. The following year, donations more than doubled – and so did his salary, reaching $255,000.

For more details on the group’s finances, click the image below.

Charity Check: Girl Scouts of the USA

by Categorized: Charity Check, Non-profits Date:

One hundred years ago today, Juliette “Daisy” Gordon Low brought together 18 girls in Savannah, Ga., and the Girl Scouts was born.

In the century since, tens of millions of girls have passed through scouting programs, and billions of cookies have traded hands. More than 100 local chapters now serve 2.3 million girls, along with 880,000 adult volunteers. The infrastructure behind that work is large as well, with at least 17 local chapters – Connecticut’s included – running budgets topping $10 million a year. Girl Scouts of the USA, the umbrella organization, raises and spends $80 million a year, with a top official earning more than half a million dollars a year. Click the Girl Scouts logo or the chart below to access a full report on the charity’s finances.

Charity Check – Charter Oak Health Center

by Categorized: Charity Check, Health, Non-profits Tagged: Date:

The Courant’s William Weir reports that new subpoenas have been issued — and more are on the way — in the Department of Public Health’s investigation of a tuberculosis case at the Charter Oak Health Center. The department wants to know when officials first became aware that a frequent patient at the health center suffered from an active case of tuberculosis. The patient, who died last year, could have exposure countless people to the disease, Weir reports.

While the public health department roots out conflicting stories on TB case, Charity Check takes a look at the center’s financial health. Click here or the image below to see our full report.

Charity Check – Susan G. Komen for the Cure

by Categorized: Charity Check, Non-profits, Politics Date:

Karen Handel, vice president of the breast cancer charity Susan G. Komen for the Cure, resigned today, a casualty of the flap over the foundation’s short-lived decision to pull its funding of Planned Parenthood chapters, purportedly because the group was under Congressional investigation. Handel, who opposes legalized abortion, said the decision to cut ties to Planned Parenthood was not based on ideology or politics, but rather a need to “distance Komen from controversy.”

That didn’t happen. After a firestorm of criticism, Komen officials reversed the decision last week, and Handel, widely seen as the driving force behind the initial impetus to cut Planned Parenthood off, stepped down.

Komen’s annual giving to Planned Parenthood totaled about $680,000, a tiny fraction of the foundation’s budget. So how much financial power does Komen have? To find out, click here or the image below, for the full report in our latest Charity Check.

Note: The Scoop’s calculation of fundraising expenses often differs from a charity’s calculation. IRS rules allow non-profits to treat part of the cost of a fundraising appeal as a program expense if the appeal also includes a programming function, such as educating the public. In The Scoop’s calculation, all of the expenses associated with fundraising appeals are counted as fundraising expenses.