In April, when I was called at the New To Las Vegas world headquarters by the Childhood Leukemia Foundation of Brick, N.J., the name of the caller asking for money was Grace Miller. When I was called again earlier this month, the name of the caller was Mary Thomas.
Both times, it was the same m.o., down to the interactive computer-generated voice that was not totally responsive to my comments and, frankly, seemed a little off. First Grace and then Mary asked me to pledge a sum of money in advance of sending me any literature. When I politely asked Mary for the organization’s tax identification number–a standard piece of public information–she hung up without so much as a goodbye. Grace gave up on me the same way: a rude click.
However, Mary had called me after I had written up the pitch from Grace along with the sad financial efficiencies of CLF. So I am now nominating the nonprofit to my list of America’s Stupidest Charities. The qualifications are simple: nonprofits that call me asking for money despite being the subject of a previous critical post by me. In the nonprofit world, can it really get any dumber than that? The list of other nominees can be found elsewhere on this page.
Since my April encounter with Grace, CLF has produced another year of financial filings for me to chew on. Things have gotten worse, at least if you’re not the charitable fundraiser. By the CLF’s own accounting, the charity spent 79% of the money donated on fundraising costs (up from 75%), about five times more than the amount spent on, say, fighting childhood leukemia. According to the filings, just 16% of total expenses went to the stated mission (down from 21%).
These are awful ratios for a charity. I have to think that’s why CLF won’t agree to be evaluated by the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance. That’s a major charity watchdog group that specifies no more than 35% of donations should go to fundraising expense, and no less than 65% of the total budget to the mission. (This is called the charitable commitment ratio.) While a BBB rating is voluntary, would-be donors should be wary of charities that refuse to cooperate.
On its zero-to-four-stars scale, Charity Navigator, another leading nonprofit watchdog, gives CLF an overall rating of zero stars. As I noted in April, CLF last year made Consumer Reports magazine’s list of “Best and Worst Charities for Your Donation,” and not on the good side. Yelp reviews are for the most part withering, often touching upon the rudeness of the telemarketers.
For the year ending December 31, 2018, CLF received $3.3 million in donations (up from $2.7 million in 2017). From that amount, a gigantic $2.6 million was spent on fundraising costs, with most of that going to a single telemarketing outfit, Innovative Teleservices Inc. of Port Huron, Mich. About $100,000 more went for management and overhead expense. That left only $600,000 of that $3.3 million for good deeds. According to filings, only $150,000 was spent on specific items for ill children and their families such as organizer binders, wigs, gift baskets and iPads. Another $390,000 was for overhead that accounting rules permit to be counted as mission expense, like payroll, insurance, rent and office expense. The rest was banked.
My April post said CLF was soliciting illegally in Nevada, since there was no charitable solicitation registration statement publicly on file with the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office. Since then, CLF got its paperwork in order with the Silver State. But the Nevada SOS still ignores a Nevada law that requires the office to post full financial filings on its website. So would-be donors have to go elsewhere for due diligence (I got CLE’s 2018 filings from the North Carolina Secretary of State’s Office, which evidently is far more committed to helping the public than its counterpart in Carson City).
On top of that, the Nevada SOS web operation has been working so poorly lately that the well-respected Las Vegas Law Blog asked earlier this week, “Anyone have any inside information on the ongoing problems with the Nevada Secretary of State website? They updated it and it has been down for weeks creating all kinds of issues.”
I sent CLF through its website a request for comment on many of the points I have raised above (and before). If I hear back, I will update this post.
Meanwhile, someone should teach these soliciting telemarketing computers some manners!