Once again, the less-than-transparent Injured Police Officers Fund spent far more on overhead than the charity’s sole stated mission of aiding southern Nevada law enforcement families in the event of line-of-duty injury or death.
In its recently filed tax return for calendar year 2018, the 37-year-old Las Vegas-based IPOF said it made grants of $67,886 to 15 individual cases, while spending another $9,269 in office expense classified as in direct furtherance of the charitable mission, for a total of $77,155. But the nonprofit spent nearly double that–$121,699–in management and general expenses. These included accounting, payroll, travel, promotion, rent and insurance.
Under normal charity evaluation metrics, this would generate a charitable commitment ratio–the proportion of expenses in direct mission support to total expenses–of 39%. That’s way under the 65% minimum set for reputable charities by such charity watchdogs as the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance. A low charitable commitment ratio has been characteristic of the IPOF since its beginning.
The IPOF was founded in 1982 with the notion of providing financial assistance to fallen officers for matters not covered by medical insurance and worker compensation. The IPOF board consists of representatives of 10 law enforcement agencies in southern Nevada. The IPOF is a fully qualified 501(c)(3) and contributions it receives are tax-deductible by the donor.
The IPOF admirably does no cold-calling or direct mail solicitation, which many law-enforcement-themed charities do and which often results in most of the money raised going to paid marketers rather than the stated mission. Instead, the IPOF normally relies for revenue on several annual fundraising special events, a few large gifts from companies, whatever comes in from the public over the transom–often after publicity about a fallen officer–and returns from a modest endowment. Unfortunately, the IPOF makes up for its zero fundraising expense with bloated overhead for the magnitude of the mission being served.
But complicating the calculation this time of charitable commitment is a one-shot $1 million cash gift that the IPOF received and reported during 2017 from a single donor auctioning a valuable car and implied in a July 2018 press release that it fully distributed during 2018 to 27 organizations, mostly affiliates of first responder agencies in southern Nevada. However, the recently released tax return stated that just $525,000 was paid out in donations for the year. In any event, payments to any agency would appear to be considerably outside the stated fallen-officer-only-aid mission of the IPOF.
The math on the latest tax return is rather confusing, and less transparent. IRS rules require nonprofits making donations to domestic organizations and governmental agencies to list on the tax return the name, address and amount given for every single donation of more than $5,000. (Donations to needy individuals are only reported by number of recipients and total amount, without individual identification.)
Remembering that donations to entities are beyond the IPOF’s stated mission to help individual fallen officers, if the entire $525,000 was donated to the 27 organizations listed in that press release, it would be mathematically impossible for all the donations to be under the $5,000 threshold requiring IRS disclosure. (A grant of $5,000 to 27 agencies would only total $135,000.)
Yet the tax return–unlike the press release, filed under penalty of perjury–listed no organizational recipients. Not a one.
So on top of the discrepancy between the press release and the tax return, either the tax return was incorrectly filled out and filed, or something else was going on. One possibility might be a significant number of undisclosed donations handed out. Whether required to be revealed or not, this might not bolster confidence in the IPOF’s constituency of law-enforcement families and donors.
The IPOF is not exactly a model of charitable accountability. Contrary to charitable best practices and IRS guidance, it does not post its financials on its website. (Following IRS regulations, the IPOF did send me a copy of its tax return at my request.) Nor does its website provide a lot of guidance on how IPOF money is distributed. Its financials are unaudited–itself a bit amazing since the stated accounting expense, $28,860, is more than 40% of the $67,886 handed out in grants to law-enforcement families.
At various times, the IPOF has prompted discontent, apparently among some spouses of Las Vegas Metropolitan Police officers. For more than a year, posts on a Facebook group page called Injured Police Officers Fund Community Sharing–with the pointed hashtag “@IPOFTruthSeekers”–have been raising questions about IPOF finances, disclosures and operations.
A post in May took aim at IPOF’s involvement in Nevada Educational Choice Scholarship Program, a state-sanctioned plan aimed at facilitating donations for private-school scholarships. “IPOF please stand by your mission statement,” one anonymous person wrote in a May post still online. “Scholarships for non-officer families is not part of your published mission. Using deception to collect donations is FRAUD. Claiming your mission is to ‘help injured officers and their families’ and then donating to non officers children is fraud and a disgrace.” It does not appear that anyone responded to this post on behalf of IPOF.
Since becoming New To Las Vegas, I have written about the IPOF several times, most recently a year ago when I reviewed its financial stewardship and efficiency all the way back to 2001 and found consistent patterns. Each time, I get a little more disenchanted. I invite anyone connected with IPOF or interested in the issues I have raised to comment below. All in the name of transparency.