A strong case for vetting charities before donating

June 14, 2013 

This week's revelation that East Manatee is home to one of the worst charities in the nation serves as a reminder that donors should vet organizations to ensure legitimacy.

The very idea that Project Cure can be labeled a charity is absurd. The organization's headquarters on Lena Road amounts to a storage unit -- a major red flag -- and none of the money it raised went to any of the medical research groups Project Cure purports to support.

Instead, $20.4 million of the money raised over the past decade enriched telemarketers while Project Cure scooped up $31.1 million. The organization's president, Michael S. Evers, pocketed $200,000 in annual salary. This can hardly be described as a nonprofit operation.

Donors have been basically robbed of their generosity and goodwill. Project Cure claimed to back laboratory research into finding cures for Alzheimer's, diabetes and prostate cancer, but this was merely a money machine that supported greed.

Project Cure ranked as the 15th Worst Charity in America, according to a study by the Tampa Bay Times and the Center for Investigative Reporting published this week. The database study based its rankings on the amount of cash charities paid to solicitors over the past 10 years. Nonprofits must report earnings and expenses to the IRS, and those documents are open to the public.

Project Cure was one of six so-called charities among the study's top 50 worst groups that provided no money in direct cash aid to worthy causes. The IRS should use this study as an impetus to revoke the nonprofit status of charities that mislead the public and fail to deliver on cash aid pledges.

Herald reporter Charles Schelle visited Project Cure's headquarters, finding nobody there but spotting a mattress, box spring and an old chandelier among other goods stored in disarray. Not surprisingly, the East Manatee operation did not return Schelle's phone calls earlier this week.

Here's what potential donors should be checking: According to various philanthropic advisory groups, such as the New York Philanthropic Advisory Service, charities should not pay more than 35 percent of contributions to solicitors. In 2011, Project Cure doled out 90 percent of all funds raised to its telemarketers -- a shameful total that reflects the bogus nature of such unscrupulous operations.

The national Better Business Bureau publishes a Wise Giving Guide three times a year on its website -- www.bbb.org/us/charity/. The report summarizes the results of the BBB Wise Giving Alliance's latest national charity evaluations and features articles on charity accountability issues and other topics of interest to donors.

The BBB's "Basic Giving Tips" are:

1. Get the charity's exact name. With so many charities in existence, mistaken identity is a common problem.

2. Resist pressure to give on the spot, whether from a telemarketer or door-to-door solicitor.

3. Be wary of heart-wrenching appeals. What matters is what the charity is doing to help.

4. Press for specifics. If the charity says it's helping the homeless, for example, ask how and where it's working.

5. Check websites for basics. A charity's mission, program and finances should be available on its site. If not, check for a report at www.give.org.

6. Check with state charity officials. In many states, charities are required to register, usually with the office of the attorney general, before soliciting.

7. Don't assume that every soliciting organization is tax exempt as a charity. You can readily check an organization's tax status at www.irs.gov/app/eos.

Also be guarded against telemarketers and ask if the caller is a paid fundraiser. And ask how much of your donation goes to the worthy causes stated in the call.

Project Cure appears to be in a downward financial spiral, collecting less and less while posting an ever increasing amount of negative net worth. This operation and others like it deserve to disappear as donors become wise to spurious charities.

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