In 2010, World Ambassadors, Ltd. had its tax-exempt status revoked by the IRS after failing to file an annual disclosure of its income and spending. That may have been because the organization was more of less broke, since co-founder and president Jon S. Petersen had been embezzling funds from the group since 2010. Between then and 2014, he admits to embezzling $475,000 in which he used to fund a sex addiction.
Petersen was found out after his own tax filings from 2013 failed to report $114,000, which he had taken from the charity. Although no sentencing date has been set, Petersen plead guilty and faces up to three years in prison, and may be required to pay back donors who supported World Ambassadors. That may be difficult, as he also racked up a lot of credit card debt and used home equity lines of credit to fund his sex addiction.
World Ambassadors was founded in 1993 by Petersen and his wife, with the goal of providing Christian outreach to international students on college campuses. It only had about a dozen contributors annually, but they still managed to donate quite a bit, considering how much Petersen managed to steal. Although stripped of its tax-exempt status, the organization remained registered as a nonprofit, and was in good standing with the state of Iowa.
The details of how Petersen spent the money haven’t been released, but they aren’t important. What matters is that he broke the trust of the donors who believed in his group’s mission, and made accomplishing that mission next to impossible. His actions left the group without the funds needed to pursue that mission, and it’s unlikely the group will ever recover. It also seems unlikely that nobody else had any idea what was going on, as that is quite a lot of money to just have up and disappear.
In 2004, the former guitarist and co-founder of the heavy metal band Pantera, “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott was shot and killed while performing with his band Damageplan. The next year, a nonprofit called Ride for Dime was created in his honor, which raises money for other music-related charities and nonprofits.
Ride for Dime has been in the news recently after the president of that organization stepped down over allegations that he stole from the charity to fund his own “rock star” lifestyle. Rob Eichelberger was accused by a former friend of trading memorabilia for drugs and using stolen money to support himself. Eichelberger claims that he did not steal from the charity, though he did use Ride for Dime funds to reimburse himself for spending his own money on events. He never claimed those expenses on the charity’s tax forms, however. He claims that his recent purchases of cars, motorcycles, and a swimming pool were funded by an inheritance he got from his father.
Dimebag was a much beloved member of the heavy metal community, and it’s sad to see things like this happen to a charity in his honor. Dimebag’s long time girlfriend Rita Haney, who has long been associated with the charity, is taking over as chairperson of the board. Hopefully she can help get things settled and move the organization away from these troubled times. Making sure that the image of Ride for Dime isn’t tarnished too much or for too long has importance beyond that organization itself though. Celebrity charities are not infrequently accused of wrongdoing or simply being a grab for publicity, and these kinds of problems don’t help that. And beyond that, the heavy metal community already has a pretty negative, though unwarranted, image in mainstream culture, so proving that Ride for Dime is a worthwhile cause might help to correct that image.
In Raleigh, North Carolina, Jennifer Pierce is again in trouble for posing as a charity to defraud people. Back in 2010, following the earthquake in Haiti, she started a charity called Share Our Shoes to collect and send shoes to needy people in that country. The charity then turned its focus to Nashville, Tennessee that same year following floods in that city. They collected thousands of pairs of shoes from a range of donors, including Bob Barker Industries.
But those shoes didn’t go to needy people, and most were sold to third parties. Finding that the non-profit had a lot of questionable expenses, $65,000 or so, the Secretary of State issued a cease and desist against Share Our Shoes to prevent them from soliciting for donations.
Late last year, Pierce was accused of using a fake charity to scam AT&T and Verizon into donating about a million dollars worth of cellphones and tablets, which were subsequently sold for profit. This time she teamed up with former Halifax County Sheriff’s Deputy Brian Keonte Knight and a third, unnamed conspirator. The third person handled the actual sale of the devices, with the profits being split between the three of them.
Pierce and Knight were arrested following raids last year, and are still being held with charges pending. The third person is still at large, but the North Carolina Secretary of State won’t comment on the case as it is an ongoing investigation.
As both Pierce and Knight have admitted to wrongdoing in this case, it seems like it should be a pretty easy conviction. Pierce denied wrongdoing in the Share Our Shoes case, and apparently the authorities were unable to actually press charges against her as while the charity was ordered to stop its operations, she seems to have been free to start another fraudulent charity.
Donald Trump is proving, yet again, that he sees charity as a cheap means for publicity, and not a cause he actually believes in. Three months ago, when he refused to attend a debate because he was unhappy with Fox News and held a fundraiser for veterans charities instead. Supposedly that even raised $6 million for charities, but so far, at most only about half of that money has actually been delivered. Various news outlets have investigated the issue, and to date, CNN has only been able to track down $2.9 million.
Where is the rest of the money? Nobody, outside of the Trump campaign, can figure that out, and the Trump campaign won’t speak about it. Even Al Baldasaro, who acts as Trump’s advisor on veterans’ issues and was instrumental in organizing the fundraiser, won’t talk about it. And he keeps saying that it isn’t his problem, and that he has more important things to worry about. He also said that none of his veteran constituents ever asked him where that money went. These kinds of statements do not paint Baldasaro or Trump in a positive light, and the last seems impossible.
Money raised for charity has to be handed over to the charities; it doesn’t go in the pocket of the fundraiser, or go towards their election campaign. But Trump has a history of refusing to tell anyone what he does with his, or anybody else’s money, and of claiming charitable actions while actually doing nothing of the sort.
And most of the charities named as recipients for that $6 million have no idea where it is, or when to expect it, either. They simply haven’t been contacted or told anything about the funds, but naming them and then raising $6 million in their honor seems like a pretty clear message that those charities should be receiving some donations.
The Boston Marathon is a big deal for runners as it’s the highlight for many people’s careers, and there are two ways to enter. You can either qualify by running a lot and getting good times, or you can “buy your way in” by raising $5,000 for charity. Apparently though, there are a lot of runners who are resentful of that second option, and think that people who don’t qualify for the race shouldn’t be in it. Last year charity runners raised $28.3 million.
Those numbers are, frankly, way too high for some runners to be complaining about it. This is money raised for charity, not for the selfish thrill of being in a fancy race. That may sound harsh, and runners who qualify are certainly impressive, but it’s hard to take their side in a situation where they seem to just want personal glory while others are there to help their communities and support good causes.
Susan Hurley, who founded Charity Teams, which trains runners and does fundraising for races, would like to see an option for qualified runners to support a charity, bringing together the best of both worlds. This is an excellent idea, and frankly surprising that it’s not already been implemented.
It’s unknown how many people would take advantage of such an option that weren’t already running for charity, but it might help reduce some of the resentment if more qualified runners were supporting charities too.
But what would really help is an attitude shift. Just because you’re running for charity doesn’t make the person who qualified on their own any less impressive. And just because the runners around you aren’t qualified doesn’t mean your achievements aren’t still achievements. There’s a self-centeredness at the core of this “me or them” mentality that makes people treat strangers like enemies, or resent people for raising millions of dollars for charity.
What are your thoughts? Should runners have the option to buy their way in marathons? Leave a comment below!
A lot of people put stock in how generous others are, using someone’s record of volunteer work or charitable giving to determine how “good” of a person they are. Supporters of Donald Trump, and the candidate himself, have made a lot out of how generous he is and how much he gives to charity.
The problem is, there’s pretty much no proof whatsoever that Trump actually is charitable. Take the hundred million dollars he supposedly donated (of his own money) in the last five years: there’s no evidence that he has ever actually made a cash donation in that time. His campaign team recently released a 93-page report of the many recipients of his largesse, and while it is an impressive number of groups and people, most of what was “donated” were free rounds of golf at his various courses. And there were many for-profit companies included in that list.
Trump also has a tendency to agree not to build on easements so that they can be preserved for conservation, but that is almost universally property he had not serious plans to build on anyway. He hasn’t even donated any money to his own namesake foundation since 2008.
His advisors claim that he doesn’t want to generate a “feeding frenzy” of charities asking him for money, but the idea that someone like Donald Trump would do anonymously anything that could possibly serve as publicity strains credulity. He’s not a modest man by any stretch of the imagination, and it he were actually donating large sums of his own money, he would be telling us about it, and proving it.
The best way to prove it would be to release his tax filings, something expected of presidential candidates, which he has thus far refused to do. Such filings would show exactly how much Trump has—or more likely has not—donated in the past.
The Human Rights Campaign, better known as the HRC, was a very loud proponent for gay marriage, and you’ve probably seen their yellow equal sign on a blue background on cars in more liberal states. But the HRC, despite touting itself as an LGBT organization, has long been criticized for not being supportive of anyone but white gay men. They have a poor record for diversity within their own organization, and have been accused of sexist hiring practices, and of actively discriminating against transgender people within their ranks.
Recently, North Carolina passed a “bathroom bill” which prevents transgender people from using the bathroom of the gender they identify with, and makes it illegal for municipalities there to provide protections against LGBT people. And the HRC hasn’t done much of anything to combat this bill or, presumably, similar bills in states like Washington. In fact, the HRC has been throwing support to certain, cherry-picked Republicans instead of Democrats who are notably better candidates for LGBT rights.
Over at the Huffington Post, Michelangelo Signorile has pointed out that the Republicans the HRC has been supporting are connected to some big money donors and so, as is often the case in politics, these decisions come down to money. It would seem that the HRC is willing to throw their own people under the bus to secure donations. But that begs the question: if you support an notoriously anti-LGBT party in order to secure a few “good apples” among them so you can get more funding to, ostensibly help LGBT people, what’s the point?
HRC is a perfect example of a non-profit that has lost sight of its mission. One cannot claim to support LGBT people, then support candidates whom though moderately pro-equality themselves, are cogs in the anti-equality Republican machine. Getting donations is not, nor can it ever be, as important to a non-profit as pursing it’s mission. HRC should know that, but they’ve obviously lost sight of their purpose.
The National People’s Congress of China recently passed a new charity law, aimed at bolstering charitable donations in the People’s Republic of China, which ranks 144th out of 145 nations for such donations. The law allows registered organizations, which have been in operation for two years, to appeal to the general public for funds, and allows for tax deductions for companies that make donations, up to 12% of their profits.
Although China has seen a significant rise in giving in the last decade, it is still abysmally low. As Xi Jinping has vowed to eradicate poverty in China by 2020, increasing charitable donations will be a necessary step. Charities can help fill in the gaps left by government policies. The law will also build a structure for tighter controls on how charities spend their money, which may sound counter-intuitive, but is a necessary step in the process.
The main reason that donations in China are so low is that the Chinese people have a pretty dim view of charities there. This is well founded, as a string of scandals have left people worrying that money they donate will be used improperly. The Red Cross Society of China, for example, has been exposed several times in the last decade for misallocating funds, while other groups have been found to use donations to fund unrelated investments and other shady activities.
The Chinese people are not necessarily uncharitable, but they have good reason to be wary of nonprofits that might appeal to them. Hopefully, this new law will help improve transparency and bolster trust in nonprofits once again. The last part of the law though, seems less likely. The law also recommends supporting civil society as an “independent voice in public life,” something that likely will not appeal strongly to the government, which has a hard time allowing such things. The law even provides punishments for groups seem as undermining state security.
Image: Site grading at Cully Park, photo courtesy of Alan Hipolito
In a turn of events that would make Leslie Knope proud, a coalition of nonprofits in Portland is turning an old construction pit into a park. The Let Us Build Cully Park project is a coalition of 16 nonprofits working with the city. The park will be in the Cully neighborhood, which is one of the most diverse in Portland, and the nonprofits that are building it are set on engaging the community.
The neighborhood is about half a mile from the nearest park or naturalized space, and Verde, one of the nonprofits taking the lead, is going to use its own contract company to hire low-income workers to build the park. Another organization, TERRA.fluxus is working with local school children to create gardens, and there are plans for cultural displays to celebrate the Latino and Native American heritage of many of the locals.
This isn’t a story of fighting against the government, but of helping them out. The city took over the land in 2000, with the intention of building a park, but by 2007, budgetary issues kept it from ever materializing. That’s when nonprofits took over fundraising, and the city has given them the go-ahead to plan and build the first part of the park. So far they’ve raised about $6 million of a projected $9 million for the project, with an expected grant of $1.25 million from the parks and recreation department. Half a million came from a National Park Service grant as well.
It’s a great example of how nonprofits are supposed to work: teaming up to accomplish great things on behalf of civil society that the government can’t take care of. The park sounds like it’s going to be a great addition to the neighborhood, and should help bolster the economy there as well.
Did you know that Amazon has a charity that donates money whenever you buy something?
Thanks to AmazonSmile, the company will donate 0.5% of the price of your eligible AmazonSmile purchases to the charitable organization of your choice! So the next time you’re on Amazon buying batteries, you can get the online retailer to make a donation to the charity of your choice for you.
AmazonSmile is a simple (and automatic) way for you to support your favorite charitable organization at no cost to you. When you’re shopping at smile.amazon.com, you’ll find the same low prices and shopping experiences as Amazon.com. With the convenience of being able to use your existing Amazon.com account on AmazonSmile, your shopping cart, wish lists, wedding or baby registries, and other account settings will remain the same.
As mentioned, AmazonSmile will donate 0.5% of the purchase price from your eligible AmazonSmile purchases – this is the amount paid for the item minus any rebates and excluding shipping and handling, taxes, gift-wrapping fees, or service charges. AmazonSmile may offer special and limited time promotions that increase the donation amount on one or more products for additional donations to charities from time to time.
Tens of millions of products on AmazonSmile are eligible for donations – eligible products will be marked “Eligble for AmazonSmile donation” on their product detail pages. However, subscribe-and-save purchases and subscription renewals aren’t eligible at this time.
Currently, there are almost one million eligible 501 ©(3) public charitable organizations you can choose from. If there is an organization that does not register to participate or becomes ineligible in the AmazonSmile program, you’ll have the opportunity to select a different organization. Amazon will reallocate the donations accrued to other charities receiving donations.
Do you represent a charitable organization that is interested in registering for AmazonSmile? If so, simply go to org.amazon.com to learn more about the registration process to receive donations.