Category Archives: Non-profits

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.

A Quarter-Million Nonprofits Lost Tax-Exempt Status Last Year

by Categorized: Data, Non-profits Date:

The IRS, long criticized for its oversight of the nation’s million-plus charities, followed through on a Congressional mandate last year and decertified more than a quarter-million nonprofits that had failed to file documents with the tax agency for three consecutive years, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reports.

Even with the purge, there are still 1.6 million nonprofits recognized by the IRS, including nearly 1.1 million 501(c)(3) charities – the type of nonprofit people most frequently interact with. There are still twice as many nonprofits in the nation as there were 20 years ago. And while the number of groups seeking tax-exempt status has slowed with the recession in recent years, applications still pour into the IRS at the rate of one every 10 minutes.

Connecticut has about 12,000 registered nonprofits, according to IRS data.

American School for the Deaf Turns Away Dan Doyle’s Camps

by Categorized: Non-profits Tagged: , Date:

More bad news for Dan Doyle, the embattled executive director of the Institute for International Sport: the American School for the Deaf, which was slated to be the new site for Doyle’s privately run summer camps, has told Doyle to find another location.

As The Courant’s Amanda Falcone reports,the decision by the school follows revelations that Doyle’s “Camp Renaissance” and basketball-skills camps have never been licensed by the state.

The camps, through which thousands of West Hartford kids have passed, had been held for years at Kingswood Oxford School. But a month ago, amid questions about financial mismanagement at the Institute, KO began reevaluating its agreement to host the camps, and Doyle announced he was relocating to the American School for the Deaf.

The future of the camps, which were scheduled to begin in about three months, is unclear.

More on Doyle here.

March Madness – Lobbying Edition

by Categorized: Data, Education, Non-profits, Politics Date:

Courtesy of the Center for Responsive Politics comes an intriguing NCAA men’s basketball bracket, picking winners based not on athletic prowess, but on money spent trying to influence politicians. The big winner: The University of Colorado with more than $860,000 devoted to lobbying activities, the Center reports, in a close championship match with runner-up University of Texas, which dropped $802,000. Other Final Four players: University of California, with $730,000 in spending, and Michigan State with $330,000. (Michigan was not the fourth-highest spender among schools in the tournament, but competitors with fatter wallets were eliminated before Michigan had to face them.)

UConn doesn’t make it far in this bracket, handily beating Iowa State, $208,000 to $182,000, but losing in the second round to the University of Kentucky, which spent $349,000. But fear not, Husky fans, the Center acknowledges these particular picks may bear little resemblance to the competition on the court.

The 64 teams competing in the NCAA tournament spent a combined $13.6 million on lobbying in 2011, although 17 schools said they didn’t spend a dime, according to the Center. All higher education entities dropped $105 million last year to influence government.

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.

Investigative Reporting Best of the Week: Unsolved Cases of Abuse Against Institutionalized Disabled

by Categorized: Health, Media, Non-profits, Public Safety Tagged: , , , Date:

Non-profit news org California Watch reports that a special police force created to protect the state’s most vulnerable residents routinely fails to properly investigate cases of possible abuse and even murder.

Reports of abuse and unexplained injuries increased 10-fold between 2006 and 2010 at California’s five institutions for those with severe mental disabilities. But of the hundreds of abuse cases reported in that time frame – from choking to shoving to sexual asssaults – California Watch could find just two in which the police department had made an arrest. Many on the force formerly worked at the institutions, and some have minimal law-enforcement training.

The report featured the case of a severely autistic 50-year-old man found with his neck broken and spinal cord crushed. Police officials failed to secure the man’s room, waited too long to collect forensic evidence, and even after learning the extent of his injuries, did not begin interviewing witnesses for five days, the story reported.

California lawmakers have called for a state audit into the department’s practices.

Is Anyone on this Board of Directors?

by Categorized: Non-profits Tagged: , , Date:

Institute Executive Director Daniel Doyle Jr.

If anyone out there is actually a member of the Institute for International Sports’ board of directors, please contact the Courant’s Amanda Falcone.

Falcone, who has been covering developments at the embattled non-profit, reports today that yet another individual listed as a board member of the institute said he never served on the board and was unaware his name was listed on official government records. Michael Healy, who lives in Ireland, was not only identified as chairman of the board on reports filed with the state of Rhode Island, he was quoted extensively in two recent press releases issued by the institute.

He told Falcone that those press releases, and the quotes attributed to him, were a complete surprise.

How did that happen? The institute, and Executive Director Dan Doyle, aren’t talking.

In a Feb. 13 press release from the Institute, Healy purportedly announced that the group was leaving its headquarters at the University of Rhode Island, and pledged that “we will make certain to live up to any and all obligations [to URI] before we depart.”

Days later, Healy’s name was on a nine-paragraph response to an audit questioning the institute’s use of a $575,000  grant from the state of Rhode Island.

Healy joins former Hasbro CEO Alan Hassenfeld and former Phoenix Cos. CEO Robert Fiondella on the list of people who say they were unaware they were listed as directors of the non-profit, best known for its scholar-athlete games and peace initiatives.

Meanwhile, an investigation of the institute by Rhode Island state police continues, with late word that officers searched Doyle’s West Hartford home Thursday. The institute’s Rhode Island offices were searched last week.

Is There a Doctor in the House?

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

More troubling news from the Institute for International Sport, with a new story from the Courant’s Amanda Falcone reporting that a physician identified as the on-call doctor for a major Institute event last summer had no idea he had been listed as the medical contact. Worse, Dr. Stephen Lahey was not only not licensed in Connecticut, he wasn’t even in Connecticut when the first call for help came from the World Scholar-Athlete Games. Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports that Rhode Island police have searched the Institute’s offices, as part of a continuing inquiry into what happened to a $575,000 state grant the non-profit received to construct a building at the University of Rhode Island. Officials with the institute acknowledge the money is gone and the building is incomplete, but say they had an informal agreement with state officials that the grant could be spent for other purposes.

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.