(Some) Fundraisers Raising Eyebrows

Be on the lookout for fraud.
by Jennifer Tipton

There has been an overwhelming response to raise funds for the Thomas Fire Victims. Organizations and individuals alike have come forward to help Ventura recover and although most have good intent, they are not the same. Much about these fundraisers is unclear … where do the proceeds go? and how are they distributed?

Here’s what you need to know, for a fundraiser to offer a tax deduction for your tickets or that big fat check you wrote, they must be a legitimate nonprofit organization with a 501c3 letter from the IRS.

“You’re not legally allowed to say you’re a nonprofit unless you have the paperwork in hand and this takes at least a year”, Kat Merrick tells me. Kat of course, has her very own “Totally Local VC”, a nonprofit organization established before the Thomas Fires and although she lost her beloved Wicked Wire Ranch to the heartless flames, her heart remains focused on helping others with her now “Local Love Project”. This is dedicated to those victims of the Thomas Fires that need the most help, they can email their information to totallylocalvc@gmail.com to be added to the list and from there, clothing and items requested are donated specifically for them and gift cards are given based on the size of the family; Kat and her volunteers do the distribution themselves.

Once a nonprofit has been established, the individual or organization can choose where the money will go from their event. Kat did a “Cheers for Charity “event on January 19th and she chose FOOD Share, The Totally Local VC Local Love Project and Catholic Charities to disburse the funds.

Here’s what a lot of potential recipients don’t seem to know – these charities don’t know who you are, you need to sign up with each individual charity to be included!

There are also those that do not have a nonprofit in place but may partner with one to put together a fundraiser, and although they appear to have good intent, accountability for money brought in can be questionable.

Mark Hartley, along with Downtown Ventura, the California Beer Festival, Surf Rodeo (many pulled together for this one) have coordinated the Thomas Fire Benefit Festival to take place on February 3rd at Plaza Park. Mark tells me a group helping to plan this event spent a tremendous amount of time determining where the money would go and that 100% of the ticket revenue will be spread out to include, the Ventura Unified School District to replace student’s textbooks and musical instruments that were lost in the fires and to help several low-income families that are still seeking permanent shelter. Money will also go to our neighboring Ojai and to the World Central Kitchen.

Kevin Clerici, the executive director of Downtown Ventura Partners and a voluntary staff member for the Downtown Ventura Organization (DVO) a 501c3, tells me the DVO is the fiscal sponsor for this event and fire victims can REGISTER for a one-time monetary gift at thomasfirebenefit.com, registrations must occur online by February 17th. According to Kevin, Pacific Western Bank has generously agreed to waive the cost to produce cashier’s checks for those who register, this means even more money will go directly to the victims.

If there are concerns with where your contributions are going, and you want to ensure they stay local, be sure to check out who you’re giving to.

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