April 28, 2014; Boston Business Journal

NPQ has written a good deal about charity scams that claim veterans or first responders as their beneficiaries. When any of these are exposed, as they must be, there’s an impact on confidence in nonprofits and the willingness to give. This is acknowledged in a suit filed against one such group soliciting in Massachusetts.

  • The Defendants’ activities…have harmed and continue to harm the goodwill of public charities and charitable giving in general.
  • The Defendants’ activities…have harmed and continue to harm the public interest in the good faith conduct of charitable solicitations, in the due application of funds given to public charities, and in the full compliance with statutory requirements.

The Massachusetts Attorney General’s office filed suit last Wednesday in Suffolk Superior Court against the Rhode Island–based Veterans Community Foundation Inc., its CEO Kimberly S. Silva, and New England branch managers Matthew J. Desautel and Americo Renzi. The suit charges that 1) the group flouted state law by soliciting donations in front of businesses, even when they had been warned that they did not have a valid certificate to do so, and 2) that the charity used unfair and deceptive solicitation practices when asking for donations.

The group’s website says it has a presence in Rhode Island and Texas. It would need a certificate to fundraise in Massachusetts, but it has not filed required financial reports for two years. The AG’s office issued a statement saying that a temporary restraining order has been issued preventing the group from fundraising in Massachusetts until they satisfy reporting requirements.

The deceptive practices part of the complaint is based on fundraisers telling donors, who were being solicited in person in front of Massachusetts stores, that 80 percent of their donations would go to veteran services, when in fact the solicitors were getting 30 percent off the top.

The creation of a regulatory environment where deceptive fundraising is not tolerated benefits all nonprofits, even if it means exerting the utmost care in practice.—Ruth McCambridge