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Monday, November 24, 2014
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Published: Monday, 2/4/2013

Better Business Bureau grades irk some area charities

Bureau rates nearly 200 agencies to assist consumers

BY KATE GIAMMARISE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Eppstein Eppstein
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From A+ to F, the Better Business Bureau has rated nearly 200 local charities on measures such as transparency and the percentage of funds they spend on their mission.

The ratings have been published in a 40-page booklet available for free to consumers to aid in making decisions about donations.

“Consumers are approached constantly for donations. ... We want people to give, but give wisely,” said Richard Eppstein, president of the Better Business Bureau of Northwestern Ohio and Southeastern Michigan.

RELATED ARTICLE: Local groups advocating animals get good marks

An edition of the book was first published in 2008 and the BBB distributed 15,000 copies. Demand was so great, the bureau has printed 20,000 copies of the 2013 edition, Mr. Eppstein said.

“The response has been phenomenal,” he said. “People just love the book.”

The book is available to anyone, but it is especially aimed at seniors who might not be as inclined to turn to the Internet to look up information about charities.

The grades take into account 20 measures for charitable accountability, among them: a board of directors with a minimum of five voting members, adequate board oversight, board review of the agency’s effectiveness, spending a minimum of 65 percent of the organization’s expenses on program activities, spending no more than 35 percent of contributions on fund-raising, making financial statements available to those who request them, having an annual report, accurate solicitation materials, and prompt responses to complaints about fund-raising practices.

Mr. Eppstein emphasized that charities are not required to be members of the BBB or pay to be evaluated. The BBB selected charities that generated the most inquiries from potential donors.

A number of local charities received an A+ grade for meeting all 20 standards, including the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo, Cherry Street Mission Ministries, Goodwill Industries of Northwest Ohio, Imagination Station, Lutheran Social Services of Northwest Ohio, St. Paul’s Community Center, the Toledo Zoo, and United Way of Greater Toledo.

Charities faring poorly included the Bowling Green Pregnancy Center, which was graded F, and Prevention Partners of Wood County, which received a D+ grade.

Lynette Worthy, executive director of the Pregnancy Center, said her organization was not asked for information by the BBB and uses its donations wisely, operating on a small budget with only three staff members.

“We would give the BBB an F,” she said. “I’m personally disappointed with this and the way they failed to investigate this [criteria] before they published it in a book.”

Prevention Partners of Wood County no longer exists as its own legal entity because a grant ran out and its programs have been merged into Behavioral Connections, said Scott Acus, residential and transitional services program manager at Behavioral Connections.

Mr. Acus said the mental health agency “meets the very highest standards that are available for an agency of our type.”

For Prevention Partners to be listed as a stand-alone agency is inaccurate, Mr. Acus said.

Many groups would not disclose all the requested information to the BBB, earning them a rating of FTD — failure to disclose.

Nonprofits receiving an FTD grade included Feed Lucas County Children, the International Institute of Toledo, the James C. Caldwell Community Center, the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center, the Toledo Botanical Garden, and both area food banks: the Toledo Northwest Ohio Foodbank and Toledo Seagate Food Bank.

However, several of those organizations said they believe they do meet a high standard of transparency and good stewardship of donations.

“We are open. We have our 990s [tax forms] on our Web site,” said Mindy Rapp, operations and program manager for the Seagate Food Bank. She added she believes her organization meets most of the BBB’s criteria other than having a formal annual report.

Similarly, Laurie Cohen, grants and special events coordinator for the Toledo Northwest Ohio Foodbank, said her organization, as a member of the Feeding America network of food banks, is subject to a great deal of oversight and scrutiny.

“We have all that information on our Web site,” Ms. Cohen said.

Denise Case, executive director at the International Institute, said she did not recall receiving a request for information from the BBB.

“Every donation that comes to the institute goes purely to the institute,” rather than outside fund-raising, Ms. Case added.

Karen Ranney Wolkins, Toledo Botanical Garden’s executive director, said she did not recall receiving a request for information from the BBB and her organization did not make a deliberate choice to not respond.

Tony Siebeneck, Feed Lucas County Children’s executive director, said his organization is gathering the requested information to submit to the BBB.

Christie Weininger, executive director of Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center, became the center’s leader a few months ago. She said the BBB’s request for information may have been lost in the shuffle of the transition of executive directors.

“We feel we are well-managed financially and are very careful with donor dollars,” Ms. Weininger said, adding that the organization is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums.

“We want people to feel comfortable giving to us and feel like their money is being wisely invested here,” she said.

Ms. Weininger said the BBB’s goal of charity evaluation is a worthy one and her organization would like to participate in future guides.

Officials from the Caldwell Center did not return calls.

Mr. Eppstein said many organizations did not respond because they might be small and understaffed and the ratings were not intended to attack any charity.

“I know that many of them [rated FTD] are fine organizations,” he said.

“We just hope [the guide] will be a resource everyone can make use of,” Mr. Eppstein said.

Copies of the book can be obtained by calling the BBB at 419-531-3116 or ordered online at toledo.bbb.org.

Contact Kate Giammarise at: kgiammarise@theblade.com or 419-724-6091,or on Twitter @KateGiammarise.



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