(KTVI) - February is American Heart Month, and the Better Business Bureau (BBB) is advising consumers to beware of a national heart charity soliciting donations in the St. Louis area.
The charity, Heart Support of America Inc. of Knoxville, Tenn., is sending out mailers offering free Heart Attack First Aid Kits and asking for donations of $10 to $25.
Records on file with the Internal Revenue Service show that about 90 percent of the donations raised on behalf of Heart Support of America go to professional fundraising companies. The records also show that less than 3 cents of every donated dollar goes to provide direct financial help to heart patients, their families or heart organizations.
Laura M. Perry of Clinton, Tenn., is the charity’s president. Perry and her daughter, Linda S. Boyd, are two of the three directors on the charity’s board.
“February has been designated as American Heart Month, a time when we reflect on the importance of a healthy heart and the enormous toll that heart disease takes on our families and our communities,” said Michelle Corey, BBB president and CEO. “It’s a perfect time to give to charities that are making important strides in helping heart patients and funding research.
“Beware of any charity that spends most of its income on fundraising, salaries and other overhead,” she said. “It certainly appears that Heart Support of America is one of those.”
Carole Bellman, charity review director for the BBB, said the high fundraising costs are a reason for donor concern and a sign of an inefficient organization. She noted that the BBB suggests that a charity spend no more than 35 percent of related contributions on fundraising. Related contributions include donations, legacies and other gifts received as a result of fundraising efforts.
The charity either has not responded to written BBB requests for information or has declined to be evaluated in relation to BBB Standards for Charity Accountability.
Heart Support of America provided records to the IRS that show the charity used professional fundraisers to raise about $7.5 million in donations from 2009 through 2011. Of that total, $611,000 (about 8 percent) was turned over to the charity.
About $208,000, or less than three cents of each dollar raised, was used for direct assistance to heart patients or their families, or for grants to hospitals and other charitable institutions.
In 2011, the most recent year for which IRS records are available, Heart Support of America raised about $2.2 million through its fundraising companies, Direct Response Consulting Services and Bee L.C., both with addresses in the same office building in McLean, Va. Records show that both Direct Response Consulting and Bee, L.C., have five-year contracts with Heart Support of America that end this spring.
Heart Support of America’s website says the charity was founded by Jim Halliburton in 1991, after he survived a massive heart attack.
The site says that the charity’s grant programs have paid for phone cards, emergency housing, transportation, prescription drugs, funeral assistance and a variety of medical supplies and equipment. It also includes profiles of several patients who reportedly were helped by the charity.
“Our desire is to serve the cardiac patient and their family in need through the processing of individual applications and through establishing grants to various social service departments,” the site says.
In addition to its direct grant program, Heart Support of America says it spent $740,000 on public education in 2011, providing information to the public about “nutrition, support and patient medicine.” It is unclear how much of that total is money spent as part of the charity’s mail and phone solicitations.
A recent solicitation mailed to a Florissant family also included an alert on heart disease among women, signs of a stroke and material on high blood pressure, “the silent killer.”
The 95-year-old Florissant man who contacted the BBB about the solicitation said he felt the mailing itself was misleading. It is headed: “Our Records About You Are Incomplete. Confirmation Requested.”
“It’s a good spiel,” he said.
He also said he would not give to a charity that would allow 90 percent of its contributions to go to a professional fundraiser. “That worries me,” he said. “You have to be very careful.”
In its 2011 IRS report, the charity lists among its expenses about $98,000 in salaries, $221,000 in legal fees, $402,000 in office expenses and $981,000 in postage and mail house fees.
An audit report for the charity, dated April 5, 2012, noted that the charity “has recently suffered significant reductions in contribution revenues and has a net deficiency in net assets.” That deficiency, the audit report states, raises “substantial doubt about its ability to continue as a going concern.”
The charity did not respond to email and phone requests for information from the St. Louis BBB.
The BBB offers the following tips for donors:
- If you are solicited by a telemarketer, ask the names of both the fundraiser making the call and the charity he or she is representing. Ask how much of your contribution goes to the charity and how much is retained by the fundraiser.
- If you are solicited by mail, understand that a portion of your contribution may go to a for-profit company hired to run the campaign. Call the fundraiser or charity and ask how much of your money the charity will receive.
- Contact the charity to find out how it uses donations from the public. Will your donation provide direct aid to patients, buy medical supplies or be used for education or research?
- Check the charity’s BBB Charity Review at www.bbb.org or by calling 314-645-3300. The BBB evaluates charities based on 20 Standards of Accountability.