Christmas came early for the Ogden nonprofit Homeless Veterans Fellowship, having received $8,500 in a settlement paid out by a Detroit charity that misused donations from Utahns. For Jeff Kane of the Homeless Veterans Fellowship, it’s a reminder of why people should double-check the checks they write for charity, especially during the holiday season.
On Oct. 17, 2011, national charity group Cars for Veterans, entered into a settlement agreement with the Utah Division of Consumer Protection and chose to be nice to a local charity for being naughty to Utah consumers who donated used cars to the group under after being misled on how their donations would be used. The group apparently mailed coupons out to individuals in Utah and across the nation advertising that good Samaritans could donate old cars to the charity that would then be sold, and the proceeds would go directly to benefit veterans.
According to Consumer Protection, however, at least seven Utahns donated cars to the program only to have their donation proceeds go to the program and not directly to a veteran. The misleading coupon designed with the armed forces logos and images of ribbons had large, bold-face print that read “Your Car Donation Supports,” and then listed recipients such as homeless veterans, paralyzed veterans and Purple Heart veterans.
After consumer protection audited Utah donors to the program and found many Utahns who were misled by how their donation would be used, the division negotiated a settlement with the Detroit-based Cars for Veterans group to avoid further investigation.
The group opted to change its mailers and to donate $8,500 to the Ogden-based charity Homeless Veterans Fellowship. (The Cars for Veterans group did not return a comment, but this post will be updated should they choose to do so.)
Kane, the director of the Homeless Veterans Fellowship (pictured), a transitional housing program for local veterans that connects them with local services, says the settlement check was gladly accepted. “We used it right for the program,” Kane says. “It’s nice to know there are government officials out there overseeing the nonprofit sector and making sure we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing.”
Having plenty of experience in the nonprofit sector, Kane says Utahns should be especially careful during the holiday season when giving and remember to make sure never to donate cash or any kind of payment to a charity that can’t be tracked. The Utah Department of Commerce has also issued its annual warning to Utahns about the perils of giving to illegitimate charities. As always, the department urges Utahns to not be suckered by charities that play on emotions without providing adequate details about the charity's program.
Some charities may also use names that sound similar to well-established charities, attempting to trade on the good name of established charitable organizations to ply its scams.
The Utah Division of Consumer Protection also keeps track of all charities registered in the state. If a Utahn wants to know more about how their goodwill is being spent, they can also check a state database that tracks how much of a donation to a charity actually benefits the organization’s intended recipients—be they veterans, the homeless or disadvantaged youth. For more information, check out the division’s tips for wise giving here.