The Fundraising Robbers

Ever wonder where your charity donations may really be going to?

By William Gallegos
Published on LatinoLA: May 13, 2012

The Fundraising Robbers

I had just finished a charity race when days following the event, I was given an email where I was thanked by the organization for both my donation and participation. There, I noticed a link where you were able to make comments to the organization. I figured that as long as the link was there, I decided to leave a comment about something I noticed about the race...the finisher medals.

I noticed that for the last 3-4 years, the designs of the medals were getting smaller and less attractive, compared to previous years.

Let's make this clear.....I am 100% percent aware of the purpose of this race (which I mentioned in my comment, sent via email). Being someone who does an average of 1 race per month (with these races mostly being marathons) I have always commended or commented on the designs of the medals given out when crossing the finish line, every time an organization behind the race sends me an email, asking me for my comments. No race rep had ever thrown a tantrum over me bringing up the race medals until now.

So within 24 hours, I receive two responses from two different women. The first of the two responded by simply saying "unbelievable". Nothing more. The second one tried making me feel guilty by suggesting that I should stick with races that give out bigger and better medals but did say that I was still welcomed to do next year's race, something I was already planning on doing.

So I figured, now that these ladies were probably making me look like some heartless bad guy, it was time to defend myself by putting these ladies on the spot. I started to now think about the costs of doing this race, which continues to rise each year (considering that this race is only a "charity event") and the possibility of where the money raised from this event may unfortunately be going to instead.

I would like to explain by looking back at both this event and past events.

The first thing I mentioned to these ladies in my response was examples of how I believed money raised in races was being put into the wrong hands.

In 2001, I participated in a race called "Champions for a cure" which was the men's version of the "Revlon Run/Walk for women" and whose goal it was to find a cure for prostate cancer. This race, co-organized by EIF (the same people that organizes the yearly Revlon race), took you through the streets around the Staples center. I believe it was their 2nd or 3rd annual race at the time. Following the event, my brother, who did the race as well and who had raised enough money thru donations to earn him a sweater, contacted me in request of getting the phone number to the organization since he had been waiting far too long for his sweater.

So when I decided to call this number myself, the only thing that came up was a recording consisting of race-day information of this same race, which of course had taken place months earlier. It would only be a short time later that I would hear on the news, a story about the the top man in charge of this race being under investigation. Before you knew it, the annual race was no longer in existence. My brother would never get his prize. Just where did the money raised go to?

Then there was the City of Hope race, held in Duarte. I enjoyed this race because of how close it was from home. Unfortunately, I would later go on to boycott this race because of a story I read weeks following my participation in the 2002 race. It seemed that an ex-employee of the City of Hope had just won more than a million dollars in a lawsuit involving her employer. She had wrongly been fired from her employer for taking too much time off from work.

Are you ready for the reason to why she took time off of work?

She was recuperating from cancer. Trust me...this did happen!!!! I read the story on the Pasadena Star News website.

So I decided to contact the hypocrites at the City of Hope by asking them to explain to me how they can call themselves a place of "hope" for cancer patients but yet can fire someone taking time so that they can battle the same disease? The rep who would respond back was too much of a coward, claiming he never heard about this story. When bringing up the fact that I read this story on the official website of the Pasadena Star News, he still denied hearing this and claimed he gets the Star News delivered to him daily. Is it not possible that money raised from the 2002 race was used to cover these legal expenses? As for this new millionaire, she definitely gets my support.

Being an avid participant of marathons, you have to attend that marathon's expo in order to pick up your bib (the number worn on your t-shirt). At these expos, you see dozens of booths selling such things as energy bars, racing attire, and entries to other marathons. You also notice alot of flyers (but not booths) of upcoming 5K charity races. It seems that every city out there now needs to have an event that raises money for this cure or for that foundation or for this awareness or for that group.

With all respect to those brave fighters out there, I see these small 5K races as nothing more than races created by money-making businesses trying to earn a fast buck for themselves and not for the cause. While half marathons, full marathons, and iron-man races are true sporting events whose runners have personal bests to achieve, those races do not sucker its participants into opening up their wallets and purses to order to find a cure or in order to help a charity. I am sorry, but this is something I had to share, and with honesty!

So back to the two ladies...I decided to ask them about something I notice every year. I asked them about the famous celebrities who make a quick 3-4 minute appearance in front of the thousands of race participants, only to then vanish.

To those who have seen advertisements for charity events that feature famous spokespeople, I you ever wonder what it takes to lure these celebrities to these events so early in the morning? Please don't tell me these celebrities do it for free. There was once this story I saw on TV that talked about celebrities who become spokespeople for these kind of causes. Actor Rob Lowe had once made an appearance on the Oprah Winfrey show and was talking about a certain cancer which he was a spokesperson for.

Those watching this episode probably saw Rob as one fantastic guy because of his devotion towards this cause. But what people did not know was that he was quietly paid one million dollars to promote awareness about this cancer. An individual who does stories on celebrities playing the role of spokesperson for diseases and/or causes was asked in this TV story if he ever knew a celebrity who was willing to be a similar type of spokesperson for free. His answer.....nope!!!! I do understand that diseases do hit home for some of these celebrities who speak at charities races and events but the truth is....if their appearances are requested without a price, are they still going to show up? I very much doubt it. I am sure their money-hungry agents will even tell them not to do so if they are not getting paid for it.

So when I saw these celebs, I asked myself, couldn't this race have been just as successful without spending big bucks on them? Couldn't we have used the money wasted on these celebs for the research instead? There was even this famous blond aerobics instructor making her first appearance at this race. She was pumping up the audience before the race began. One would be lying if they said that she too also showed up for free. And what about the VIP rooms for these VIP people? Or the fancy catering provided in those rooms? Or the limos seen near those VIP rooms? Did a percentage of our donations not cover these unnecessary expenses? This kind of reminds me of those famous celebs at the "Live 8" concert some few years ago in Philadelphia who were on stage, telling the thousands in the crowd to give to those less fortunate, only for these celebs to then be seen backstage having expensive wine and lobster.

Perhaps I know a new source of where the money from these unnecessary expenses was now coming from.....the $10.00 we had to pay that morning just to park our car. As recent as just the previous year, many of the parking lots around the venue hosting the event had always been free but now were costing you. I guess the organization hosting the event suddenly needed a new way to get money that I believe went to VIP services, overpaid celebrities, and other unnecessary expenses.

Now to those who think the parking lots that day were controlled by the city or a private company, answer me this question....If that is so, then why were the attendants that morning wearing shirts with the words "volunteer" printed on them and why were they not giving out parking receipts once you paid them? Any city or privately owned parking lot attendant would have had to provide you with a buts about it. The person collecting the money only gave me a verbal warning, telling me that there were no refunds.

I then brought up something to both of these ladies that I heard from comedian Chris Rock when it came to AIDS, the millions of dollars raised yearly for research, and the delay in getting a cure. In one of his past shows, Chris asked his audience (not in the exact words) to why is it that in the greatest country in the world, we have accomplished some of the greatest feats in mankind but yet we can't seem to find a cure for AIDS? Hundreds of millions of dollars (perhaps billions) are raised for research yearly and yet all we can do is make a medicine that only eases the disease rather than cure it? He then made a fantastic comparison. He said it was like General Motors building a car that can last more than 30 years. He said General Motors can easily make a car like this but they would be foolish to.

And what about the employer these two ladies work for? Does one not ever wonder how much of one's donation covers unnecessary work-related expenses? I once knew a retired lady who did volunteer work at the United Way's Arcadia, California office. This lady (who has since passed away) told me that almost every day, the younger-paid employees would invite her to join them for lunch. We weren't talking about burgers and fries but more like your typical expensive dishes that were sometimes delivered to the office. So when she finally told them one day that she can't be letting them pay for these expensive lunches, they told her not to worry because it was the United Way that was covering it. Because of this, she would step down as a volunteer (the Arcadia office has since shut down). There have been many well-known organizations out there that have come under fire for similar-related reasons.

There was singer Michael Bolton, who years ago was under fire for the unnecessary expenses that were taking place within his own organization. There was Jerry Lewis, who had the disabled protesting in front of the studios hosting his telethon, claiming he was spending a good percentage of raised funds on luxury items such as limo services. There was the organization named after murdered victim Nicole Brown-Simpson, also accused of unnecessary expenses. There were such charities as the red cross who after 9-11, were using funds, supposedly raised to help the victims of this tragic event, for other purposes instead. There was Haitian singer Wyclef Jean, whose own charity organization was under fire. It was said that money donated to his organization that was to be used to help Haiti earthquake victims was instead going to cover non-related debts. Fox News' Geraldo Rivera and Bill O' Reilly both welcomed him to defend himself but that would not happen.

These days, we are now hearing stories on CNN about charities who have raised millions for war veterans but yet, these veterans are not getting a dime (the top lady in charge of a related organization shut her front door on a CNN reporter who wanted to ask a few questions to where the millions raised was going to). What about all the celebs who have their own foundations? I am willing to guarantee that these celebs don't put a single dime in their own foundations and that all funds raised come from outsiders that are given "freebies" in exchange for their lucrative contributions (i.e......event tickets, fancy dinners, VIP party passes, autographed merchandise, sports memorabilia). I also am willing to guarantee these foundations are created for tax-purposes only. I could go on and on and on with other examples of crooked charities and celebrity foundations but I think you get the picture.

Now something that I hear year after year at these races are the pre-race speeches from the overpaid celebrities and unknowns associated with the organization. One comment I know well that was made by a member of the organization to the thousands of runners and walkers was that, "we need to find a cure so that we don't have to do these races anymore". Now of course, this is something I agree with but you do honestly think the organization is in a rush to stop doing these races?

Stop and think about what Chris Rock said about scientists making a medicine that only controls aids rather than one that cures it. As bad as it sounds, do these scientists people really want to find a cure? Would I be lying if I said that these scientists prefer to see the millions of charity dollars continue coming in? You wouldn't call my comments "stupid" if Chris Rock said these exact words.

Now I want you to stop and imagine work for a organization whose job it is to organize charity races that raise millions of dollars each year in order to find a cure to a certain disease. You have been working for this organization for over 15 years and it is a job you would not leave for three reasons....its fantastic VIP-style benefits, its six-figure salary, and most important, BECAUSE THE ECONOMY SUCKS!!!! After many races and millions of dollars raised, it seems that there is finally a cure to this deadly disease. It was just a year or two ago that the president of your company was telling the crowd of thousands of participants of a race your company organized, "we need to find a cure so that we don't have to do these races anymore".

Now that there is a cure, would your employer still need to be organizing races? The answer would be no, just like there would be no reason to still be asking people to donate money to find a cure. So what happens to you and the rest of the employees of this organization whose job it was to raise money for a cure?

Can you say.........out of business and therefore, out of a job?

Do you now see the significance of Chris Rock's comments as well as the significance of imagining yourself working for this organization should a cure be found? Once again, you wouldn't you call my comments "stupid" had this been said by Chris Rock or any of your favorite celebrities?

So anyways, the above comments, questions, and examples you have read these past 10-15 minutes were sent to these same two ladies within 24 hours of their comments and by no surprise, neither of these two (who, according to their emails, were named Sally and Judy) would respond back.


What should have been a simple email regarding race medals had instead turned into a set of grilling questions and comments these ladies chose not to respond to.

Don't get me wrong, I do my best to give back but I make sure my hard earned money goes to the right places. Two places that I make sure my hard earned money does not go to are...1) organizations like the ones mentioned in this story and 2) panhandlers healthy enough to find a job. I would strongly suggest giving your money directly to those "honest" people in need (the key word here is "honest") and not to organizations who supposedly then give to those in need.

Each year, I give back to my high school by giving a yearly scholarship to a student whose family has experienced financial trouble. I also have donated my Lakers season tickets to the school as well. By my school thanking me verbally or by that family showing their appreciation with a thank you card (and not some carbon-copy email or some letter sent via fourth-class mail), that is proof alone that the money went into the right hands. Let the politicians be the ones to spend our tax dollars on research for diseases. At one past Stand Up For Cancer telethon, then presidential candidate Barack Obama said that if elected, would vow to work with those in the medicine field when if comes to finding a cure for cancer. With four years already passed, we are still waiting for that progress report. If politicians like Barrack Obama aren't going to keep their word when it comes to finding a cure for cancer, then one shouldn't be voting for them!

As sad as it sounds, I don't even like to buy chocolates from those who approach me at a supermarket. I once was heading to a market when a young individual asked me if I could by a Helen Grace chocolate bar from them (you know, the skinny bars that can be broken in three equal pieces and that has a white label and a foil wrapping). I am told that they are $2 each. I then ask this person to show me the candy bar (he had them all in the box). After showing me the same bar I just described, I told him that those bars where only $1. After telling me they were $2, I tested him by telling him that just a few days ago, I bought the same bar from a co-worker for just $1 (which I did not). This punk paused for a couple of seconds before telling me that they were actually $1 but that the other dollar was going straight to drug and gang prevention programs.

Are you kidding me!!! He would refuse my dollar and wished me a nice day. My advice....don't buy these bars if they are priced above a dollar.

Another kid tried the same crap on me another time. He approached me with his big plastic container of goodies and asked if I could buy a small bag of those sour gummy worms at $5 a bag (a very small bag, that is!). When telling him that that bag was not $5, he then had the audacity of telling me, "okay, I'll give it to you for $4". Another idiot!

If there is any group of kids I will buy from only because of their honest reputation, it is the girl scouts. I recently was $1 short and was told they would cover it, thanks to recent donations. I would see this same group a week or two later and would reimburse them. They seemed shocked someone would be honest enough to do this.

What you have read the past 15-20 minutes does not make me one who does not care about those individuals fighting the many battles out there nor does it make me one without a heart. This story is also not about being negative but about being honest. It does nothing more than remind all about what goes on behind the many charities and about the individual(s) out there that have sucked your wallet or bank accounts dry, in one crooked way or another. Every event and incident mentioned in this story is true and is as accurate as can be. I stand by this story, which was NOT done with the intention of disrespecting anyone bravely battling an issue or disease, deadly or non-deadly. And before you, the reader, decide to lash out at me, remember this...I am not the one making six figures through one's donation.

The purpose of this story is aware of how you donate and how your donations are spent!

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