Pleas for help
I wrote this column in June, but after watching the horrific events unfolding at our Texas coast over the weekend due to Hurricane Harvey, I thought it good to update it and run it again.
After seeing the plight of the Texas Gulf Coast, after Hurricane Harvey slammed into miles and miles of coastland, many of us want to DO something. But if you’re like me, you want your money and your efforts to go where they’ll do some good and NOT line someone’s pockets.
It’s hard to ignore a plea for help, especially where children, animals, cancer patients, the elderly and veterans are concerned. Some stories tug at the heartstrings, especially in one or all of those cases. It’s in our nature to want to do something when we see someone struggling, financially or otherwise. Even if it’s a dollar or two, we do.
But there are predators out there who will use this situation to help their own bank accounts and do nothing for anyone else. What can we do, when the one making the plea for help might be less than entirely truthful about their plight or possibly making the entire thing up?
Donation jars sprang up in the Austin area for a group called the Rising Angels Foundation. A picture on the jar by one restaurant’s cash registers showed a child in a hospital bed. After an Austin network investigated, it was revealed that the Rising Angels Foundation’s EIN is no longer valid and the group’s 501(c)3 status is no longer valid. The address for the nonprofit is a San Antonio strip mall. The contact numbers belong to men with felony records for robbery, armed robbery, theft and assault.
Anyone else just a tad outraged that someone would fake something like that? Legitimate nonprofits have a paper trail that they make public. They are required to file an annual form called a 990 in which nonprofits basically list donations received, how much they pay employees (if any), and how they spend the donations they receive.
We are so quick, sometimes, to “take someone’s word for it” if they are soliciting donations, especially if they are good salesmen and pull at the heartstrings where children, animals, cancer patients, the elderly and veterans are concerned (as above).
If where your money goes DOES matter to you, vet your non-profits. Do a little fact-checking.
Pay attention. Has your favorite nonprofit actually distributed any funds or resources? Do they have a concrete plan for what they will do with your contributions? If they don’t have much to show for it – as in no media exposure, or are reluctant to invite the media in or answer questions – I would start wondering. A good nonprofit’s leaders should welcome questions about how and where they spend the donations they receive.
Some people give blindly, because the person asking for funds seems nice, and what’s wrong with us, if we don’t want to donate to someone in desperate need? But does it matter to you, how your donations are spent? Does the money stay locally or does it go to a national office where it helps pay for someone’s salary? If the money is spent locally, how is it spent? Does your favorite (or otherwise) nonprofit spend its money wisely? Does your favorite nonprofit have a record of publicly showing how they distribute their funds? Do they solicit donations for one thing, yet use them for something else? All questions someone could ask as they vet a nonprofit before they donate.