Kids Wish Network
Our rank: #1
Every year, Kids Wish Network raises millions of dollars in donations in the name of dying children and their families. Every year, it squanders almost every penny.
The money gets diverted to enrich the charity’s operators and the for-profit companies Kids Wish hires to drum up donations. Sick children wind up with less than3 cents of every dollar raised. That has been the formula for 16 years, ever since Kids Wish mimicked the respected Make-A-Wish Foundation and launched its relentless drive for money. In the past decade alone, Kids Wish has channeled nearly $110 million donated for sick children to its corporate fundraisers. That makes it the worst charity in the nation, according to a Times/CIR review of charities that have steered the most money to professional solicitation companies over time.
In addition to the money paid to for-profit fundraisers, Kids Wish has paid its founder and his own companies at least $4.8 million in salary and fees over the years. While founder Mark Breiner was still president of Kids Wish, earning $130,000 a year, he joined a former employee as a partner in a fundraising company called Dream Giveaway.
In 2008 and 2009, Kids Wish paid Dream Giveaway nearly $1.7 million in consulting fees to run automobile give-aways that raised money for the charity.
Breiner continued making money after he retired from Kids Wish in mid-2010 and left his mother-in-law on the charity board. In 2010 and 2011, the charity paid two of Breiner’s companies $2.1 million for licensing, consulting and brokerage fees.
Kids Wish violated IRS rules by waiting four years to disclose the money it paid Breiner. The charity blamed the delay on a mistake by its accountants.
Breiner declined to answer questions about his fundraising and consulting businesses, which received an additional $1.26 million from Kids Wish for a car giveaway in 2012.
But he said in an email that the charity recently completed an IRS audit that included a review of its contracts with his companies.
"They found no indication of private inurement or conflict of interest with founders or the board," Breiner said.
The Kids Wish website is full of testimonials from families thankful for their wishes, including magic moments with the likes of President Barack Obama and pop star Rihanna. About 800 children get their wishes granted each year. But the charity spends most of its resources collecting donated items —toys and coloring books — and handing them out across the country.
Kids Wish has hired Melissa Schwartz, a crisis management specialist in New York City who previously worked for the federal government after the 2010 BP oil spill. Schwartz said the charity has hired outside companies to do fundraising so that its staff can focus on wish-granting. According to its 2011 IRS filing, Kids Wish had 51 employees
Schwartz also said all contributions made to the charity through its website go 100 percent to granting wishes.
She declined to answer detailed questions about Kids Wish’s fundraising operations or its payments to its founder, saying the charity "is focused on the future."
Regarding the Times/CIR ranking of Kids Wish as the nation's worst charity, Schwartz said, "There are more than 100,000 children and their families in whose lives Kids Wish Network has helped make a positive difference. They would surely refute any negative characterization as to the importance and successes of the charitable efforts of our organization."