Monday, January 14, 2013

Class action lawsuit sues 40,000 charities for not “making a difference”

Charities may need to start adding disclaimers

A New York man is launching a nationwide class-action lawsuit against more than 40,000 charities for not living up to their promise to “make a difference” through donations.

George Snidely, 71, is a noted philanthropist who has given more than $6 million in donations to national and local universities, hospitals, cancer charities, social service non-profits and animal welfare organizations. In a news conference in New York City yesterday, Snidely said his philanthropy hasn’t made any difference whatsoever.

“I’ve been told over and over again by these charities that making a donation will make a difference on things like poverty, illness, lack of education and cruelty against animals,” he said. “But guess what? It hasn’t! There’s still poverty, illness and illiteracy, and last week someone ran over my cat. My money didn’t make any difference!”

Snidely says the 40,000 charities promised donors that their gifts would make a difference on a host of issues. But a review of most of the charity’s annual reports found that the issues they raised money for didn’t improve. Only one US charity, the Society to Prevent Horses From Driving Cars, a small Vermont non-profit, actually solved or made a major impact with fundraised dollars last year.

“I asked all 40,000 charities last month in a letter to stop saying that donors ‘make a difference.’ I got three written replies, 20,000 direct mail letters and calls from 10,000 major gifts officers or senior volunteers asking me for donation,” said Snidely. “My office and home phones were tied up, my voicemail exploded and my mail box fell off the side of my house and had to be replaced. That’s when I started the lawsuit.”

If successful, the lawsuit would ask US charities to give back all of the monies they have raised since they started using the “making a difference” language. For some, it could mean going back decades to give refunds.

Charity leaders say they are not worried about the lawsuit, predicting it will never get to court.

“Every day, we make a difference in our communities. We help people get jobs, keep them safe, help them get well, educate them and comfort them when they have their cat run over,” said Dibble Brewer, a spokesperson for the League of Big Honking Charities. “We get thousands of people every day telling us that they feel great donating to our charities because they made a difference, and that makes a difference to us. Mr. Snidely obviously doesn’t know the difference about how we make the difference that we do. We really, truly do make a difference.”

However, some charities say they will change their practices because of the lawsuit. Several have started including disclaimers in their written marketing materials and brand names. Legal experts say that charities will need to tighten up how they market themselves.