Be Wary When Giving: There Are Some Rotten Indian Charities

Dr. Dean Chavers
3/28/14

As the director of a national nonprofit organization serving Indian people, I know how hard it is to meet expectations of the people who evaluate us. We are not perfect, but many of the “Indian” charities are simply rotten.

One of our large donors asked me 20 years ago to research the charities she was giving money to. There were over 100 of them, with some 25 being Indian charities. Out of the 25, about 20 were rotten. It was way beyond my expectations. She curtailed her giving to most of them.

Indian charities serve education, health, economic development, domestic abuse, and many other causes. Most of them are run by non-Indians, which is admirable, but the rotten ones need to be held accountable.

My best friend told me about one of them 40 years ago. His mother-in-law worked there, opening checks and preparing bank deposits most of the day. They had a well-oiled machine. But they abused their privileges; they had their own airplane to fly the money into the bank every day. They are still doing that.

The latest bad news is that the former director of the National Relief Charities (NRC), Brian Brown, has been indicted for stealing $4 million from that organization. He was charged with wire fraud and money laundering. Allegedly for years he had a new Cadillac leased and paid for by the organization.

(I also hate to admit this, but one of our supposedly honest Indian nonprofits also paid for a leased Cadillac for its former executive director. To their credit, when the board found out, they let him go.)

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cptdisgruntled's picture
cptdisgruntled
Submitted by cptdisgruntled on
While I appreciate the sensible advice to be careful in selecting the recipients of charitable donations, this article provided no information on how to go about vetting those recipients. Does the author have no suggestions on HOW to find out if a charity is actually providing the help it promises?

nrcpr's picture
nrcpr
Submitted by nrcpr on
As the President of National Relief Charities, I am responding to the March 28, 2014 story written by Dr. Dean Chavers, which is a condensed version of an earlier article with some corrections. I appreciate that most of the facts included in Dr. Chavers’ story are correct. NRC has had an experience that sadly many organizations and individuals go through – trust placed in someone was betrayed. Since learning of the fraud and deception committed by Brian Brown and the Charity One organization (that was to establish the American Indian Education Endowment Fund), NRC engaged legal counsel to conduct an investigation, filed a civil complaint with the court system in Texas where we are headquartered, alerted the FBI and continues to cooperate with their investigation. Progress continues to be made. The FBI made its first arrest and indictment in the case (Brian Brown), and the court issued a judgment ordering the defendants associated with Charity One to repay the grant to NRC, with interest and legal fees. We continue to work with state and federal authorities to recover the funds. Fortunately, this fraud did not disrupt our scholarships and other humanitarian services on the 65 reservations we serve in 11 states. Although the grant funds awarded to Charity One were misused, an independent audit of all grants supported by NRC resulted in NO PERFORMANCE ISSUES BEING IDENTIFIED WITH ANY OTHER GRANT. Readers should know that since the Charity One grant in 2006 NRC has strengthened our own internal controls and safeguards. Every Board member that started the Charity One grant has been removed and none of them remain affiliated with NRC in any way. Six new members have joined NRC’s Board of Directors since that time, and we are in the process of expanding our Board. We established Finance and Audit committees to provide independent oversight of NRC’s finances. Other safeguards we’ve put in place include undergoing an independent organizational risk assessment and adopting best practices such as hiring a Chief Financial Officer and upgrading to a nationally recognized auditing firm to annually review our finances. Some of the misinformation in Dr. Chavers’ story must be clarified again: Nearly 20 years ago NRC paid $350,000 to the State of Pennsylvania as a voluntary settlement to end a lengthy and costly lawsuit that occurred 20 years ago. The settlement agreement states THERE WAS NO FINDING OF WRONGDOING BY NRC. Our request that the settlement be used to assist tribes already receiving services from NRC was honored by the state. At no time during this litigation did legal expenses exceed services to the reservations, as erroneously reported in the American Institute of Philanthropy article. In 1995, NRC provided about $1 million worth of support to the 15+ reservations served at the time – today NRC provides more than $30 million in support that benefits 250,000 Native Americans annually. For other corrections, please see our response to the Phoenix New Times article at http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/1996-12-26/news/finances-with-wolves/5/ . One reader submitted a question in response to Chavers’ March 28 article asking how to go about vetting and ensuring a charity is providing the help it promises. For one thing, don’t believe everything you read on the Internet, in newspapers or on broadcast media. Do your own research. Check financials, which are vetted by independent, third-party auditors in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP); look on the charity’s website for seals of approval and validations from agencies involved with vetting charities; look for results reporting on the charity’s web site; and call the charity and talk with them at length about the results they are getting. For accurate and up-to-date information on NRC, we invite readers to review our 2012 annual report and form 990 on our website at www.nrcprograms.org. Our 2013 program effectiveness report is also available on our website and our 2013 annual report and form 990 will be published this month and available on our website. You may also contact us at 800-416-8102 or info@nrcprograms.org with any questions. -- Robbi Rice Dietrich, President, National Relief Charities
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