America's worst charities

Our ranking based on cash paid to solicitors in the past decade

The worst charities, ranked by money blown on soliciting costs

Totals from the latest 10 years of available federal tax filings.
Data updated in December 2014.

Rank Charity name Total raised by solicitors Paid to solicitors % spent on direct cash aid
1 Kids Wish Network $137.9 million $115.9 million 2.5%
2 Cancer Fund of America $86.8 million $75.4 million 1.0%
3 Children's Wish Foundation International $92.7 million $61.2 million 10.6%
4 Firefighters Charitable Foundation $62.8 million $53.8 million 7.4%
5 International Union of Police Associations, AFL-CIO $66.6 million $50.4 million 0.5%
6 Breast Cancer Relief Foundation $63.9 million $44.8 million 2.2%
7 American Association of State Troopers $48.1 million $38.6 million 8.9%
8 National Veterans Service Fund $70.2 million $36.9 million 7.8%
9 Children's Cancer Fund of America $43.7 million $34.4 million 4.6%
10 Children's Cancer Recovery Foundation $38.5 million $28.9 million 0.7%
11 Project Cure (Bradenton, FL) $53.8 million $25.5 million 0.0%
12 Committee For Missing Children $26.6 million $23.5 million 0.8%
13 Youth Development Fund $27.5 million $22.6 million 1.0%
14 Association for Firefighters and Paramedics $24.0 million $21.4 million 3.1%
15 Woman To Woman Breast Cancer Foundation $19.4 million $18.2 million 0.3%
16 United States Deputy Sheriffs' Association $25.6 million $17.9 million 0.8%
17 National Caregiving Foundation $21.0 million $17.4 million 3.2%
18 Vietnow National Headquarters $19.1 million $16.7 million 2.8%
19 National Cancer Coalition $42.1 million $16.4 million 1.3%
20 Operation Lookout National Center for Missing Youth $18.2 million $14.7 million 0.0%
21 American Foundation For Disabled Children $15.8 million $13.4 million 0.6%
22 Heart Support of America $31.4 million $12.9 million 3.1%
23 Police Protective Fund $37.7 million $12.2 million 0.7%
24 Veterans Assistance Foundation $12.4 million $11.1 million 10.4%
25 Children's Charity Fund $14.0 million $10.3 million 2.4%
26 The Veterans Fund $12.6 million $10.2 million 2.5%
27 Wishing Well Foundation USA $12.6 million $10.1 million 4.3%
28 Disabled Police Officers of America Inc. $11.4 million $9.5 million 2.3%
29 Disabled Police and Sheriffs Foundation $10.4 million $8.9 million 1.0%
30 National Police Defense Foundation $10.6 million $8.4 million 5.1%
31 Defeat Diabetes Foundation $12.7 million $7.8 million 0.0%
32 American Association of the Deaf & Blind $10.3 million $7.8 million 0.1%
33 Optimal Medical Foundation $7.8 million $7.6 million 1.0%
34 Circle of Friends For American Veterans $9.3 million $7.2 million 4.4%
35 United Breast Cancer Foundation $12.7 million $7.2 million 6.3%
36 Reserve Police Officers Association $7.8 million $6.9 million 1.2%
37 Children's Leukemia Research Association $9.8 million $6.8 million 11.1%
38 Disabled Police Officers Counseling Center $7.6 million $6.4 million 0.1%
39 Shiloh International Ministries $7.7 million $6.0 million 1.1%
40 Find the Children $7.4 million $4.8 million 4.6%
41 Survivors and Victims Empowered $7.7 million $4.8 million 0.0%
42 Firefighters Assistance Fund $5.7 million $4.7 million 3.1%
43 Caring for Our Children Foundation $5.1 million $4.4 million 1.6%
44 National Narcotic Officers Associations Coalition $5.0 million $4.2 million 0.0%
45 Our American Veterans $2.6 million $2.3 million 2.3%
46 Roger Wyburn-Mason & Jack M Blount Foundation For Eradication of Rheumatoid Disease $9.0 million $1.9 million 0.0%
47 Hope Cancer Fund $2.1 million $1.7 million 0.5%
48 Firefighters Burn Fund $2.0 million $1.7 million 1.5%

Database and web production: William Higgins | Times
Dave Stanton and Mike Davis | Smart Media Creative

$935.6 million
paid to solicitors

Charities' record

A more typical split *

  • $935.6 million cash paid to solicitors
  • $348.2 million cash to the charities
  • $43.9 million to direct cash aid

* Watchdog groups say no more than 35 percent of donations should go to fundraising costs. There is no standard for how much should be be spent on direct cash aid.

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America's Worst Charities:
Our ranking based on cash paid to solicitors in the past decade

Children/Families

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."

America's Worst Charities:
Our ranking based on cash paid to solicitors in the past decade

Disease/Disability

Cancer Fund of America

Also doing business as: Breast Cancer Financial Assistance Fund

Our rank: #2

Cancer Fund of America, started in 1984, claims in pledge letters that it is on the front lines of the fight against cancer. But its main activity has nothing to do with funding research or paying for cancer treatment. Instead, the charity collects donated goods — including shampoo, DVDs and air fresheners — and ships them across the nation to dying patients and the families who have gone broke trying to save them.

Cancer patients get help to make their lives a little easier. But while gift baskets are made up of trinkets and toiletries, for-profit fundraisers take home millions of dollars every year. CFA's founder and at least a dozen other family members earn a total of $1 million in salaries from CFA and four spin-off charities.

The waste has been going on for decades. Year after year CFA raises millions and sends 82 percent to its for-profit fundraisers. Over the past decade, fundraisers have collected $98 million in donations. Patients have gotten less than $1 million in direct cash aid over those 10 years, IRS records show.

As far back as 1991, CFA's founder, James T. Reynolds Sr., said he intended to reduce the charity's high-fundraising costs. But more than 20 years later, fundraising still takes more than 83 cents of every dollar raised.

Reynolds referred all questions to his attorney. Regarding his charity's fundraising expenses, he said, "I can't help it that some things are costly."

"We can only help others with the funds we net whether it be 90 or 20 percent," Reynolds said.

America's Worst Charities:
Our ranking based on cash paid to solicitors in the past decade

Children/Families

Children's Wish Foundation International

Our rank: #3

Children's Wish Foundation International is one of several charities that mimic the name and the mission of the well-established Make-A-Wish Foundation in Arizona.

Children's Wish reported that it spent about $600,000 granting wishes to terminally ill children in 2010 and gave them donated goods valued at $3 million. It paid professional fundraisers nearly $6 million for their services that year.

Linda Dozoretz, who founded Children's Wish with her late husband in 1985, said telemarketing has helped the charity find children in need of its help.

"We might not have known of these children unless we had this valuable communication tool," Dozoretz said. "A human voice communicates caring, compassion and warmth that is more needed at this time than any other."

America's Worst Charities:
Our ranking based on cash paid to solicitors in the past decade

Fire/Rescue

Firefighters Charitable Foundation

Our rank: #4

Firefighters Charitable Foundation was created to provide financial assistance to people who have been affected by a fire or disaster.

Over the past decade, its professional solicitors have been the biggest beneficiaries. From 2002 to 2011, it raised $64 million in donations and paid $55 million of that to its solicitors. The charity spent less than 10 cents of every dollar raised on direct financial assistance to those in need.

The charity's founder, Louis Pelico, left the organization in 2006. He said he couldn't reduce fundraising costs and decided he had had enough. "I tried for years to get it down. I figured if I hadn't gotten it down by now that I wasn’t going to," he said. "It’s a sword that really cuts you. It helps you and then it cuts. It’s doubled-edged."

Frank Tepedino, who became president of the charity after Pelico, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinelin 2007 that he planned to slowly change the way the charity raised money. That hasn't happened.

Today, the charity pays its for-profit solicitors 90 cents of every dollar raised.

Some of that money goes to a broker who arranged contracts between Firefighters Charitable Foundation and some of its telemarketers. The broker earns about 4 percent of any donations collected by the telemarketers, records show.

Some industry experts say it is absurd for charities to use brokers. Lists of telemarketers are readily available and using brokers just wastes more money.

Tepedino said he is trying to raise money from other sources, such as fundraising dinners and golf outings. “If you have a better way of helping us, I’m open,” he said.

America's Worst Charities:
Our ranking based on cash paid to solicitors in the past decade

Law Enforcement

International Union of Police Associations, AFL-CIO

Our rank: #5

The International Union of Police Associations is headquartered in a glass and concrete mid-rise in downtown Sarasota, Fla. As a trade union and member of the AFLCIO, donations to the group are not tax-deductible.

The nonprofit hires professional solicitors to raise most of its money. Telemarketers call people across the country and tell them donations will be spent providing financial aid to the families of fallen police officers who were union members. The group also gives scholarships to students seeking degrees in law enforcement.

But of the $57 million in donations given by the public over the past decade, more than 72 cents of every dollar was spent paying professional solicitors. Less than half of one percent — about $28,000 a year — was spent on survivor benefits.

Recent campaigns have been even worse. In 2011, professional fundraisers kept about 92 percent of the $8.1 million raised. IUPA netted about $650,000.The group spent $25,000 on its cause that year, giving $15,000 in scholarships, $5,000 in death benefits and $5,000 to a handicapped children's foundation outside Sarasota.

Rich Roberts, public information officer for IUPA, said the charity will continue to hire professional solicitors.

"While the percents (returns) are not what we would like them to be, it's money we otherwise wouldn't have to support our officers," Roberts said.

IUPA is one of five groups on the Times/CIR list that is tax-exempt under IRS code but not a traditional 501c(3) charity. These groups still must register with state regulators to solicit donations, but the donations are not tax-deductible. All five rely heavily on professional telemarketing companies to raise money.

 

America's Worst Charities:
Our ranking based on cash paid to solicitors in the past decade

Disease/Disability

Breast Cancer Relief Foundation

Also doing business as: National Cancer Coalition (website says it's now a part of NCC) CCPD, Cancer Center for Prevention and Detection Pacific West Cancer Fund

Our rank: #6

When Donald G. Tarver formed the charity that would become Breast Cancer Relief Foundation, it was a chance to start over.

He had been president of another cancer charity. It was accused by the IRS of paying too much money to its for-profit fundraiser.

But when Tarver started over in 1987, he hired the same fundraising company at Breast Cancer Relief Foundation and continued paying the corporation the vast majority of donations raised in his charity's name. Breast Cancer Relief continued diverting millions away from cancer patients after Tarver's death in 2002, when his brother and sister-in-law took over.

For the past decade, it has been one of the nation's most wasteful charities, IRS records show. Over that time, it has raised nearly $64 million through professional fundraisers and allowed those companies to keep 70 percent of donations. Just more than 2 percent of donations raised were given directly to hospitals or to women in need of breast cancer screenings. The charity has also reported shipping medical supplies worth millions of dollars to Africa and Central America over the past four years.

Breast Cancer Relief, which has changed its name three times in 25 years, has now merged with National Cancer Coalition, according to Annis Tarver, Donald Tarver's sister-in-law. National Cancer Coalition, also on theTimes/CIR list of the nation's worst charities, is headed by Annis Tarver's son-in-law, Robert Landry. Annis Tarver referred all questions to Landry, who did not respond to several calls or a certified letter.

America's Worst Charities:
Our ranking based on cash paid to solicitors in the past decade

Law Enforcement

American Association of State Troopers

Our rank: #7

American Association of State Troopers is a fraternal organization of active and retired state troopers and highway patrol officers who join to qualify for low-cost life insurance benefits.

Dues from the 6,000 members account for just $180,000 of the more than $3 million raised in 2011. The public gave the rest after being solicited by the group's professional fundraisers, who kept more than 80 percent of donations. Donations are not tax deductible.

The nonprofit spent nearly $500,000 cash last year, most of it on members' life insurance premiums. That means the police officers represented by the charity get only about 16 percent of the money raised. Over the past eight years, the average percentage of funds spent on direct aid to members has been much lower -- only about 9 percent.

Since 2004, the organization has raised about $45 million and spent less than $4 million on member benefits.

American Association of State Troopers has been disciplined five times by regulators in three states for misrepresentations by its solicitors. Since 1994, it has paid more than $300,000 to settle these claims.

The association's longtime director, Ken Howes, retired last year. His successor, director of operations Joan M. Breeding, said, "We'd all love to get more (money from fundraising), but there's no way we'd even be able to make that amount of calls. Printing and postage alone would take you under."

America's Worst Charities:
Our ranking based on cash paid to solicitors in the past decade

Veterans

National Veterans Service Fund

Our rank: #8

National Veterans Service Fund notes on its website that "war does not end on the battlefield." Instead, the site goes on to say, American veterans and their families have been left without the help they need to overcome critical health and psychological problems at home.

National Veterans Service Fund says it offers guidance to veterans to help them qualify for aid they otherwise would go without. It also touts the "limited medical assistance" the charity hands out to needy veterans.

Those promises have helped persuade donors contacted over the phone and in mailers to give $70 million over the past decade. The for-profit solicitors paid to raise that money kept more than half. On average, the charity gave assistance it valued at about $500,000 a year to needy vets.

The percent going to professional solicitors has increased over time. In 2011, the charity raised about $9 million and solicitors kept nearly 82 percent of the total.

Philip Kraft, president of National Veterans Service Fund, said his charity buys wheelchairs, provides grocery store gift cards and pays rent for needy veterans. But no details of the grants are reported in any of the charity's annual IRS filings, which only refer to spending on "veterans assistance and relief."

The only cash grant mentioned in the charity's 2011 IRS filing is a $60,000 donation to a children's birth defect group in Orlando.

Betty Mekdeci, the Florida charity's president, said the grant was a huge help.

"I'm sure Phil would be happy as a clam if he could put up a website and the money would roll in,"Mekdeci said. "The problem lies with the public. If they would give in the most cost-effective way, these problems wouldn't exist."

Kraft, who was paid $118,800 in 2011, defended his use of outside solicitors to raise money for National Veterans Service Fund. "To blame a charity for the price charged by our fundraisers is like blaming a driver for the price of gas," he said.

Kraft said his charity has one other full-time employee and three part-timers to help veterans across the nation. Despite the millions raised in its name, the charity does not encourage needy veterans to apply for aid on its website. It can't afford to, Kraft said.

"If we put specific stuff on our website, there'd be a gold rush," Kraft said. "We'd be out of business in a week."

Instead, it relies on social workers to suggest worthy recipients and sees itself as helper of last resort, said Kraft, who has headed the group since 1989.

"We have to have someone on their (the veterans') end to ensure that they have been to all the other resources in their area, with names and reasons for rejection, before we can even think about stepping in to assist," Kraft said.

America's Worst Charities:
Our ranking based on cash paid to solicitors in the past decade

Children/Families

Children's Cancer Fund of America

Our rank: #9

Children's Cancer Fund of America is one of five Reynolds family charities that raises millions in the name of cancer, but spends most of that paying for-profit companies.

Rose Perkins runs the charity. She was married twice to James T. Reynolds Sr., the 70-year-old patriarch who transformed Cancer Fund of America, a struggling charity, into a $35 million empire that pays executive salaries to at least a dozen of his family members. In the past three years alone, Cancer Fund and its associated charities, including Children's Cancer Fund, raised $110 million. The charities' solicitors were paid more than $75 million.

Perkins, who had been vice president of Cancer Fund, started Children's Cancer Fund of America in 2004. In addition to the cash raised through fundraisers, the charity received a $50,000 cash grant from Reynolds' Cancer Fund in 2010.

Since it was formed, Children's Cancer Fund has raised nearly $38 million and let professional fundraisers keep nearly 78 percent. The charity has given cash grants to patients of about $300,000 a year. It also reports shipping millions of dollars in donated medical supplies to developing nations each year through "gifts-in-kind" programs.

Perkins, now separated from Reynolds, said she hopes to wean Children's Cancer Fund of America off fundraisers.

"We are only in our eighth year," Perkins said.

In 2011, Perkins was paid $227,442. Her charity reported giving about $265,000 in cash to nearly 1,500 children that year. The grants averaged less than $200 each and represented less than 5 cents of every dollar raised.

Perkins said that in 2012, the charity started a new program, giving donated goods to needy children in the United States.

"We give away soap, lotions, backpacks, Disney DVDs and socks," Perkins said. "When you don't have a lot, it's something."

 

 

America's Worst Charities:
Our ranking based on cash paid to solicitors in the past decade

Disease/Disability

Children's Cancer Recovery Foundation

Also doing business as: formerly Cancer Recovery Foundation of America, which is now a separate charity

Our rank: #10

Children's Cancer Recovery Foundation was established in 1990. Its mission is "to assist children under the age of 18 and their families who are facing the hardships of a cancer diagnosis."

The charity's founder, Greg Anderson, has created an international network of eight charities, stretching from Harrisburg, Pa., to Berlin, Germany. His daughter, Erica Harvey, and wife, Linda Anderson, are both officers at two of the related cancer charities. Children's Cancer Recovery does not pay Greg Anderson. But he was paid more than $170,000 in 2011 as president of one of his other charities, Cancer Recovery Foundation International.

Over the past decade, Children's Cancer Recovery has raised about $35 million through professional solicitors and paid those companies about 80 percent of what was collected.The charity spent an average of $21,000 a year providing direct financial assistance to those in need.

Anderson said the charity's solicitors also deliver messages on cancer prevention and survival when they call seeking donations. This dual role allows the charity to count some of its soliciting expenses under charitable programs in annual tax filings.

In addition, the charity receives millions of dollars a year in donated medical supplies and other "gifts-in-kind." The charity reported receiving $7.3 million in donated goods in its most recent tax filing. The organization did not provide documentation requested by CIR and theTampa Bay Times regarding what goods were collected or how they were valued.

To procure medical supplies, Children's Cancer Recovery has worked with World Help, an organization that gathers donated items and partners with charities to ship them overseas. In April 2013, World Help revealed that it had overstated the value of goods it shipped for many of its charity partners. In a revised audit, World Help reduced the value of its 2011 shipments from $227 million to $5 million.

Anderson addressed the issue in an article in the trade publication Chronicle of Philanthropy.

“It is my belief that World Help’s lack of management oversight, internal controls, and transparency brought about this mess,” Anderson told the Chronicle. “Children’s Cancer Recovery Foundation is a victim, not a perpetrator.”

America's Worst Charities:
Our ranking based on cash paid to solicitors in the past decade

Disease/Disability

Project Cure (Bradenton, FL)

Also doing business as: Alzheimer Disease Fund, National Diabetes Fund, Prostate Cancer Fund, Center For Advanced Heart Research

Our rank: #11

DISCLAIMER: Project Cure in Bradenton, Florida is not affiliated with similarly named groups in Centennial, Colo., and Dayton, Ohio.

Since 1998, Florida-based Project Cure has raised $65 million to lobby Congress and educate the public about alternative treatments for cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.

But its office off Interstate 75 south of Tampa is little more than a storage unit filled with plastic bins, unused furniture and Christmas decorations. Its lobbying has been limited to less than $3,000 in political donations between 1995 and 2008, according to federal campaign reports. And its educational efforts are a couple of websites that mostly provide links to articles from other sources.

The group also claims that its letters to donors serve an educational purpose. A recent letter on behalf of Project Cure’s Alzheimer Disease Fund included a warning about a possible link between Alzheimer’s disease and exposure to aluminum.

Project Cure’s longtime president, Michael S. Evers, is paid about $200,000 a year. In 2011, the group spent 90 percent of all donations on fundraising fees and expenses. But that still wasn’t enough to cover the cost of fundraising, according to Project Cure’s financial reports.

For at least the last 16 years, Project Cure’s fundraiser has spent more than it raised, leaving the nonprofit in debt. The fundraiser, Direct Response Consulting, has kept track of the money it is owed. At the end of 2011, Project Cure had run up a tab of more than $3 million.

Reached at the house he rents about five miles away from his group's office, Evers, 60, said he frequently works from home. “It’s not necessary to go into the office,” he said.

When asked for details about how he spends his time, Evers ended a phone interview, saying he was “in the middle of editing a new report on Alzheimer’s disease.” In an email, Evers said his group's work led to the creation of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine within the National Institutes of Health. The center was founded in October 1998.

Dr. Stephen Barrett, a retired psychiatrist who has built a career debunking unproven medical claims, said there are plenty of groups like Project Cure that advocate treatments he considers questionable.

“But those groups actually put out materials or have networks of practitioners,” Barrett said. “There aren’t too many like Project Cure. During the past 10 years, I’ve seen no evidence they’re doing any significant public education.”

Project Cure is one of five groups on the Times/CIR list that is tax-exempt under IRS code but not as a traditional 501c(3) charity. These groups still must register with state regulators to solicit donations, but the donations are not tax-deductible. All five rely heavily on professional telemarketing companies to raise money.

America's Worst Charities:
Our ranking based on cash paid to solicitors in the past decade

Children/Families

Committee For Missing Children

Our rank: #12

On its website, the Committee for Missing Children claims it has helped reunite 1,600 missing children with their families over the past 16 years. The help provided by the charity amounts mostly to posting pictures on its own website. The charity pays so much to its for-profit fundraisers, it has little money left to do more.

Over the past decade, the Committee for Missing Children has raised $27 million in donations and steered nearly $24 million of that to fundraising companies. That makes it No. 13 on theTimes/CIR list of the worst charities in America.

After David Thelen and his wife pay their overhead and take their salaries for running the charity, the families of missing children are left with an average of $21,000 a year in direct cash aid. In 2011, the charity spent about $33,000 cash on its cause, mostly on airfare to reunite families. That's less than 2 percent of total donations.

Thelen, the charity's chief executive, said the cash grants don't take into account the long hours he spends on the phone counseling desperate parents.

After being repeatedly criticized for his charity's high fundraising costs, Thelen said he's trying to reduce fundraising costs by raising more money through the group's website and from foundation grants. But he's not optimistic.

"I may just close the doors in July when my wife's 66," said Thelen. "I'm tired of trying to convince people I'm a good charity."

America's Worst Charities:
Our ranking based on cash paid to solicitors in the past decade

Children/Families

Youth Development Fund

Also doing business as: Children's Dream Network, A Child's Dream

Our rank: #13

Rick Bowen started Youth Development Fund 30 years ago. Its stated mission is to fund educational programs for children to prevent drug abuse and promote health and fitness.

Over the past decade, donors contacted by professional solicitors have given the Tennessee charity nearly $30 million. Youth Development paid those solictors 83 percent of the money raised.

Much of what's left goes to Bowen himself. Youth Development pays Bowen's private production company about $200,000 a year to produce two underwater videos. The charity also pays a Knoxville TV station to air Rick Bowen's Deep Sea Diving on Sunday afternoon, though the show makes no mention of Youth Development Fund.

In its IRS tax filing, the charity says the shows have a potential audience of 1.3 million. But the station manager said the shows attract only about 3,600 viewers each week.

Bowen, now 63, said his company “just happened to be the low bidder,” for the video work, which has taken him from Cozumel to Key West.

Youth Development Fund also solicits under the name "Children's Dream Network," saying the program "provides dreams to children with life-threatening illness." Bowen said the program finds children through word of mouth and currently has about 300 families awaiting help. The charity has spent an average of $23,000 a year on direct cash aid to dying children.

Since 2009, the charity has also shipped donated medical supplies valued at about $9 million to Central America. Bowen said the supplier recommended an orphanage in Guatemala as one of the recipients. Youth Development Fund pays the supplier a few thousand dollars for shipping and counts the full value of the shipment as revenue on its tax forms. That boosts the charity's good deeds and makes its fundraising costs look lower in comparison to donations raised.

"It's just a way to help so many more people," Bowen said of the donations. "I got thank you letters, the whole bit."

America's Worst Charities:
Our ranking based on cash paid to solicitors in the past decade

Fire/Rescue

Association for Firefighters and Paramedics

Our rank: #14

Michael Gamboa said he still doesn't know what the fuss was about.

In May 2009, his charity, the Association for Firefighters and Paramedics, was one of 12 charities and 17 solicitors targeted by California Attorney General Jerry Brown for deceptive fundraising tactics. Brown said the charity misled donors about how much money would go to burn victims. And he accused its operators of diverting $33,000 in donations to pay for out-of-town board meetings and a Caribbean cruise for the three board members and their families before a meeting in Florida.

Gamboa, who has been president of the California charity since it was started in 2001, settled with the state in September 2010. The group admitted no wrongdoing but paid a $100,000 settlement and agreed to special monitoring. Board members remain the same.

Gamboa said California regulators targeted him just to generate cash for the revenue-starved state government. He defended the charity-sponsored travel.

"When you have board members and you can't pay them, you want to take them somewhere nice once a year," he said. "I didn't hide it."

The charity, whose mission is to provide "financial assistance" to burn victims and their families, continues to be dependent on professional fundraisers for all of its income. In 2011, solicitors kept nearly 90 percent of the $1.2 million raised. Gamboa, who has an online organic supplement marketing business on the side, took a salary of about $54,000. Less than $20,000 in direct cash aid was given to fire victims or hospital burn units.

The association pays about $6,600 a year for office space, although Gamboa said he usually works from home. When a reporter visited the office address listed on the charity's IRS filing and website, however, it turned out to be a UPS box. Gamboa declined to speak with a reporter when she visited his home. In several phone interviews, Gamboa said his goal is to get rid of 90 percent of his telemarketers.

"I thought I could change how fundraisers work," he said. "But once I got involved, I learned it was hard."

America's Worst Charities:
Our ranking based on cash paid to solicitors in the past decade

Disease/Disability

Woman To Woman Breast Cancer Foundation

Our rank: #15

The path chosen by Jacqueline Gray shows exactly how a worthy cause can be turned into one of the nation’s worst charities.

In 2007, Gray and her husband, Kevin, started Woman to Woman Breast Cancer Foundation in Lauderdale Lakes, Fla. For a year the couple struggled to raise money by hosting golf tournaments and making phone calls to potential donors. Then they met Mark Gelvan, a New Jersey consultant who has spent two decades transforming fledgling charities into money-making machines.

Gelvan introduced the Grays to what sounded like a winning formula. He would help the charity expand if it signed a contract with telemarketer Community Support Inc. The staff at Community Support would create the marketing materials and run the call centers. The telemarketer even gave the Grays $30,000 in seed money to cover bills related to the expansion.

All the Grays had to do was agree to pay Community Support 90 cents of every dollar raised, then sit back and wait. From contributions of less than $10,000 in 2008, Woman to Woman’s donations increased to $1.6 million in 2009, then leapt to $6.5 million in 2010 and $6.7 million in its most recent filing.

What the charity got to keep was far more modest. It netted about $50,000 its first year with Community Support and $544,000 in 2011.That was still enough for Gray, her husband and her daughter to start taking salaries. In the latest year, the trio received $84,000 in total compensation. Each member of the family also has a vehicle provided by the charity.

Woman to Woman raised $14.5 million in donations from 2009 to 2011, tax filings show. It paid nearly 95 percent of that to its for-profit fundraiser and spent about $700,000 on overhead and salaries. That left an average of less than $20,000 a year to provide mammograms and other diagnostic services for women with breast cancer.

Jacqueline Gray, herself a breast cancer survivor, said she is as shocked as anyone by how much money has been raised in her charity’s name and how little has made it to patients. She said she is angry that fundraisers take more than 90 percent of the revenue. But she vehemently denies that she’s to blame.

“Why would I be to blame for a system that’s dysfunctional?” Gray asked. “We are doing what we’re supposed to be doing.”

America's Worst Charities:
Our ranking based on cash paid to solicitors in the past decade

Law Enforcement

United States Deputy Sheriffs' Association

Our rank: #16

Until his death in April 2010, Stephen Van Dyke ran United States Deputy Sheriffs' Association with his wife, Judy. The charity said its purpose was to train officers, give financial aid to the families of fallen officers and donate equipment to rural law enforcement agencies.

Under the Van Dykes, USDSA was disciplined by at least three states. In 2000, Texas fined the charity $110,000 in penalties and costs after accusing it of misleading donors. In 2002, Florida fined it $1,000 for failing to register to solicit. In 2009, Kentucky levied a penalty of $101,500 for what regulators called deceptive fundraising practices.

The Van Dykes initially raised money through advertising sales in a magazine they produced for USDSA. In 2005, they began using professional solicitors. Over the next five years, the group raised $23 million. The fundraisers kept 70 percent. The charity, which said it had more than 20 employees when Van Dyke was in charge, spent more than $7.6 million on salaries. Less than $135,000 was spent on financial assistance for families or equipment grants to departments during this period.

Thomas Palma, the new president of USDSA, moved the charity from Texas to Virginia. He did not return numerous phone calls or respond to a certified letter seeking comment. The charity's latest IRS filings show it is still dependent on professional fundraisers. Its website is a work-in-progress, with links to training videos, grant applications and donations "coming soon."

Last year Oregon fined USDSA for misrepresentation.

Stephen Van Dyke's obituary described how he had devoted his "career and heart" to USDSA and a second charity the couple started, United States Municipal Police Organization. "Through his efforts, immeasurable officers' lives were saved and he granted relief to hundreds of officers in need," said the obituary published in the Houston Chronicle.

Memorial donations, it said, could be sent to a local leukemia charity.

America's Worst Charities:
Our ranking based on cash paid to solicitors in the past decade

Children/Families

National Caregiving Foundation

Also doing business as: National Foundation for Medical Research

Our rank: #17

National Caregiving Foundation was started in 1985 to provide grants and scholarships to individuals and groups dedicated to the study of cancer and other diseases.

In 1996, the Pennsylvania Attorney General reached a settlement with the charity stemming from its mail and phone solicitations. It "failed to ever conduct any research, provide any funding for research, (or) provide any grants or scholarships related to research," according to the agreement.

Afterward, the charity changed its mission. Today, its stated goal is to disseminate information about health issues and the plight of caregivers. The focus on education allows the charity to report some of the money it spends soliciting donations as money spent on charitable work. That's because solicitors can include educational statements when they reach out to potential donors at home.

The organization also provides a "caregiver support kit" on its website. The kit includes information about Alzheimer's disease.

National Caregiving Foundation runs an assisted living facility for the elderly and victims of catastrophic diseases. Its website provides no information about the facility or where it is located. Officials did not respond to requests for more information. The facility is largely supported through fees, not the money raised by professional fundraisers, according to a financial audit filed with regulators.

Executive Director Joseph R. Salta receives about $130,000 a year in salary and other compensation. He declined to respond to questions.

America's Worst Charities:
Our ranking based on cash paid to solicitors in the past decade

Veterans

Vietnow National Headquarters

Our rank: #18

Vietnow National Headquarters was founded more than 20 years ago to help veterans and their families. Its touted programs include feeding the homeless, providing assistance with mental health issues, and paying college scholarships for vets and their families. The organization also publishes public awareness and educational material about prisoners of war and Agent Orange-related health conditions.

But the biggest beneficiaries are not men and women of the Armed Services. Over the past decade, Vietnow has raised $18 million through professional solicitors and paid the for-profit companies that raised that money $16 million. The charity spent 3 percent of donations on direct cash aid for veterans, about $32,000 a year.

In 2003, its relationship with a fundraising company, Telemarketing Associates, was the subject of a U.S. Supreme Court case. The contract between the charity and fundraiser said that the solicitor would keep 85 percent of the donations. The Illinois attorney general said the fees were excessive. The court ultimately concluded that the First Amendment prohibits prescribing the amount a fundraiser can charge.

Officials at the charity did not respond to multiple messages left at its national office.

America's Worst Charities:
Our ranking based on cash paid to solicitors in the past decade

Disease/Disability

National Cancer Coalition

Also doing business as: Childhood Cancer Research Coalition

Our rank: #19

Updated Sept. 3, 2013.

National Cancer Coalition is one of the nation's biggest charities, with revenues in fiscal 2012 of more than $140 million. However, all but about $3 million of its reported income was not cash but donated medicine and medical supplies. These donations, known as gifts-in-kind, were passed along by the charity to developing nations and camps for hemophiliac children in the United States.

National Cancer Coalition gets its donated medical supplies from major pharmaceutical companies, including Pfizer and Teva. In 2011, the charity claimed it donated Gardasil, an HPV vaccine for young women, to Ghana. However, a spokeswoman for Axios, which is managing the vaccination program in Ghana, said only two U.S. charities played a role in the donation. National Cancer Coalition was not one of them.

In August 2013, the Axios spokeswoman said a Gardasil project involving National Cancer Coalition was approved in Ghana in 2011, but had not yet been implemented.

Separately, the Axios spokeswoman confirmed that the charity provided technical support for a Gardasil vaccination project in Honduras in February 2013.

Robert Landry, president of NCC since 2004, did not return multiple phone calls or respond to a certified letter seeking comment.

In 2003, Landry was on the founding board of Medical Support Association, a charity that closed in 2011. His wife and mother-in-law were executives at Breast Cancer Relief Foundation. That charity reported that it merged with NCC earlier this year.

All three of the charities with which Landry has been associated relied heavily on professional solicitors and paid them nearly half of the donations raised. Over the past decade, NCC has raised $41.5 million and spent less than $43,000 a year on direct cash aid.

In fiscal 2012, NCC made a single cash grant of $10,000 to an organization in Central America. All its remaining grants were donated medical goods and pharmaceuticals. Landry, meanwhile, received total compensation of $314,000.

In calls to donors, NCC's hired telemarketers say the charity uses donations to provide free mammograms and prostate exams. No such programs are reported in the charity's IRS tax filing.

In its latest IRS filing, NCC said its "Childhood Cancer Research Coalition" seeks to provide grants to researchers. But the charity did not report any such grants in its tax filing that year.

America's Worst Charities:
Our ranking based on cash paid to solicitors in the past decade

Children/Families

Operation Lookout National Center for Missing Youth

Our rank: #20

Operation Lookout was started in 1984 by the husband and wife team of Mike and Melody Gibson. Over the past decade, the charity has let professional solicitors keep 82 percent of the $19.6 million raised from donors across the country. But Melody Gibson said the charity uses solicitors for a "dual purpose." When telemarketers call people at home asking for money, they also ask potential donors to post photos of missing children in their communities.

"This is a highly valued service to us as we do not have enough time in the day for all the tasks required," Gibson said. "So we count on the outreach to enroll private supporters to help us locate a missing child."

As a result, Operation Lookout claims, 82 percent of the missing children whose photos have appeared on the charity's website have had their cases resolved.

"So you know there's hope," Gibson said.

When fundraising declined in 2001, the Gibsons launched another charity, Caring for Our Children, to raise money for Operation Lookout. Both charities rely heavily on high-cost professional fundraisers and are on theTimes/CIR list of the nation's worst charities.

Operation Lookout has signed settlements with regulators in Florida and Iowa. In Iowa it agreed to stop soliciting until 2016 as a result of fundraising abuses by its telemarketer. Callers lied about how much money went to the charity and said local children would benefit from the donations when the money was used nationwide.

Operation Lookout's role has been limited to giving free advice to parents. Though a 2010 IRS filing said the charity spent $90 on "investigations," Gibson said Operation Lookout "does not give money to any entity or directly to any individual or family. OL is not a grant making entity. OL’s mission is to work with families in crisis whose children are missing prior to age eighteen."

Although neither Mike nor Melody Gibson reported a salary from Operation Lookout in 2011, the couple has been paid in the past. Over the past decade, the couple earned a total of about $600,000. Melody Gibson is executive director; her husband is head of casework. Both receive "back wages past due from previous years when the cash flow permits," Melody Gibson said.

Like other executives of charities on the Times/CIR list, Gibson said donors can always give contributions directly to the charity to avoid telemarketing expenses.

 

America's Worst Charities:
Our ranking based on cash paid to solicitors in the past decade

Children/Families

American Foundation For Disabled Children

Our rank: #21

For American Foundation for Disabled Children, 2011 was a typical year.

It raised $2.1 million by promising to send disabled and homeless kids to camp. But after paying professional fundraisers their cut, the charity wound up with about $250,000, barely enough to pay its own expenses and the part-time treasurer's $48,000 salary. Sick children paid the price.

With little money left, the charity did not spend a single dime on children, according to its own 2011 tax filings with the IRS. Instead of cash, the charity reported handing out $1 million worth of donated goods.

It has been the same story at American Foundation for Disabled Children, year after year. Started in 1991, it routinely keeps less than 20 percent of the donations raised in its name. Over the past decade it has raised $16.4 million, paid its fundraisers $13.4 million and given children less than 1 percent of total donations, aTimes/CIR analysis of IRS records shows.

Instead of cash assistance, children get donated items. Photos on the charity's website show children playing with toys. But there is no way to verify the value of what was handed out. The charity's financial reports do not describe the goods or say who received them.

The charity's website also describes gardening therapy and sailing programs, as well as camp scholarships. None of these expenses are reflected on the group's IRS filings, however. John Cryan, the treasure and only paid executive, did not respond to emails, telephone calls or a certified letter seeking more information.

Last year, the group settled a trademark infringement lawsuit filed by a California charity that claimed American Foundation for Disabled Children solicited using its name. As part of the settlement, the foundation returned about $3,300 in donations raised in California.

America's Worst Charities:
Our ranking based on cash paid to solicitors in the past decade

Disease/Disability

Heart Support of America

Our rank: #22

Heart Support Inc. is tucked into a Knoxville, Tenn., shopping plaza, between a realty office and "Rub-a-Dub Doggie" grooming center.

Founded in 1992 by a Cancer Fund of America board member, the charity appears to be in a slow financial decline. Donations collected from professional solicitors have decreased by 50 percent over the past decade, IRS records show.

In 2011, the charity collected about $2 million and paid 93 percent of that to its for-profit solicitor. Despite paying almost everything it raised to the company, Heart Support wound up $2 million in debt to its own solicitor that year.

Heart Support reports that it continues to give cash grants to heart patients to help them pay bills. In 2011, the charity reported giving $44,000 to 550 patients, for an average of about $80.

The charity's president, Laura Perry, did not respond to repeated calls or a certified letter seeking comment. Neither did her daughter, Linda Boyd, who is secretary of the charity's board.

America's Worst Charities:
Our ranking based on cash paid to solicitors in the past decade

Law Enforcement

Police Protective Fund

Our rank: #23

Since the 1990s, David Dierks and Phil LeConte have launched three nonprofits to help police officers. Initially, all three organizations relied on outside solicitors for the majority of their revenue.

 

From 2001-2003 the organizations paid a combined $16.5 million to for-profit solicitors. In 2004, the in-house telemarketing centers staffed by charity employees became the major source of donations.

 

Today, Police Protective Fund is the only organization still in operation.

 

From 2001 to 2010, Police Protective Fund raised about $50 million, and reported spending about 85 percent of that on fundraising, including the cost of running its phone rooms in the Tampa Bay area, where callers talk to potential donors about police safety. The charity paid about $14.8 million of its total fundraising bill to private solicitors.

 

The charity pays about $1 million a year to a company owned by one of its employees to acquire donor lists and rent phone room equipment.

 

In 2003, Police Protective Fund changed its mission from providing aid to officers to promoting their well-being through education. The move makes it easier for the charity to count its telemarketing operation as an educational program. Callers asking for donations also remind people who pick up the phone to be cautious when driving near police officers. Those calls and related mailings represent the charity's biggest program expense.

 

From 2001 to 2010, the charity spent $260,000 total on direct cash assistance, including benefits provided to the families of police officers killed in the line of duty, according to tax filings.

 

Nonprofits run by Dierks and LeConte, including Police Protective, National Association of Veteran Police Officers, later renamed American Association of Police Officers, and Junior Police Academy, have been sued by regulators in at least six states, including Illinois, Ohio and Massachusetts. States accused charity employees of falsifying documents and overstating charitable deeds. Telemarketers went as far as pretending they were police officers to raise money, according to complaints filed by California and Illinois.

 

Dennis Haley, a Special Agent with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for the past 27 years, joined the advisory board of Police Protective around 2003. He had worked with LeConte’s father in Illinois, but said he hasn’t been involved in five or six years, since the organization was sued by the California attorney general.

 

"It bothers me that they have unscrupulous people that they hired and that my name is associated with it," he said. "It could be a really good program. I’m just sorry to hear that the bulk of the money isn’t going to where it’s supposed to go."

 

Dierks touted the organization's efforts to reduce traffic-related law enforcement deaths. "These deaths often involve ordinary citizens who don't follow proper driving habits or who don't observe the safe zone when encountering first responders," he wrote in an email. "The Police Protective Fund reaches nearly 1 million households each year with our message to 'Proceed with Caution.'"

America's Worst Charities:
Our ranking based on cash paid to solicitors in the past decade

Veterans

Veterans Assistance Foundation

Our rank: #24

Veterans Assistance Foundation raises about $2.5 million a year and spends about half of that providing temporary housing and job training to struggling veterans.

Although the foundation gets nearly half its revenue through a federal government grant, it came in at No. 26 on the Times/CIR list because it has paid $11 million to for-profit solicitation companies over the past decade.

For at least the past 10 years, the foundation has signed contracts with telemarketers allowing the companies to keep 90 cents of every dollar raised.

The founder of the charity, Robert Piaro, said that all the federal money he receives must be spent on specific programs. To provide other services, the charity needed additional income, Piaro said. He said he believes hiring professional fundraisers is wasteful, but the money allowed his charity to buy several houses in California and Wisconsin to shelter veterans.

Piaro, who does not receive a salary from the charity, said when the charity's current solicitation contract ends, he plans to stop using professional fundraisers because of the high cost.

"It’s terrible. I’ve tried for years to find someone better," he said.

Piaro said the organization was recently flagged for an audit by the IRS because of its fundraising costs. The IRS has not yet reported back.

America's Worst Charities:
Our ranking based on cash paid to solicitors in the past decade

Children/Families

Children's Charity Fund

Also doing business as: A Child's Wish Association of America

Our rank: #25

Ken Bowron, a motorcycle mechanic, started Children’s Charity Fund in 1994. Now he draws a retirement check from the charity, which is run by his wife and daughter. In 2011, family members were paid more than three times the amount of cash spent on medical equipment and sick children’s wishes.

Children’s Charity Fund has been targeted by state regulators for its high fundraising costs and minimal services since soon after it was founded. In 1998, Vermont officials found that although the charity told donors that funds would help children in that state, total assistance amounted to $200 worth of walkers and canes dropped off at a hospital.

Over the past decade, Children’s Charity Fund has been disciplined by six states for registration and solicitation issues and paid $3,750 in penalties. In 2011, it signed an agreement to stop soliciting in Iowa after its telemarketer there was closed by the state. But the charity continues to raise donations.

Interviewed in a cluttered office above her husband’s motorcycle repair shop earlier this year, Sheryl Bowron said she’s down to just a couple of telemarketers and donations are drying up. Speaking over a blaring television, she said, “People here don’t want to give until they need it.”

America's Worst Charities:
Our ranking based on cash paid to solicitors in the past decade

Veterans

The Veterans Fund

Also doing business as: Veterans Fund Inc.

Our rank: #26

When Hugh Brooks started The Veterans Fund 15 years ago, he wanted to entertain America's hospitalized veterans. He said he originally planned to rely on volunteer performers but quickly realized his charity needed cash to put on shows. Brooks, now 81, turned to professional solicitors.

The decision meant Brooks would not have to spend time raising donations, but it came with a cost. He would have to pay the companies more than 80 percent of donations raised for his cause.

Brooks said there was no negotiating with solicitors, who had their choice of veterans groups for clients. "It was a 'take it or leave it deal,'" he said.

Over the past decade, Veterans Fund raised $15.7 million and paid for-profit fundraising companies 82 cents of every dollar raised. An additional $1 million went to pay salaries at the charity, including about $40,000 a year to Brooks.

The charity's next biggest payments went to a non-profit entertainment company Brooks had founded. Brooks said he left the entertainment company, Re-Creation U.S.A., four years before he started his charity in 1998.

Veterans Fund also has given grants to a California veterans group, Help Hospitalized Veterans. California's attorney general sued that charity in 2012, accusing it of fraud and financial mismanagement. The case is pending.

In an interview in February, Brooks told a reporter he decided to close Veterans Fund at the end of 2012. The final straw was a $30,000 penalty the charity had to pay to settle allegations of wrongdoing against its telemarketer in Oregon.

Though he doesn't know how his charity would have raised money without outside help, Brooks said he now regrets using professional fundraisers after dealing with complaints about telemarketers from regulators and the public.

"I'd advise charities not to fool with it," he said. "The damage it does to some individuals, especially senior citizens who can't remember, is a greater burden than a charity should take on for the purposes of growing."

America's Worst Charities:
Our ranking based on cash paid to solicitors in the past decade

Children/Families

Wishing Well Foundation USA

Our rank: #27

A husband and wife formed Wishing Well Foundation in 1995. Its goal is to fulfill wishes for terminally ill children. Over the past decade, the organization has spent less than 5 percent of the $12 million raised on wishes.

In its most recent tax filing, the charity's founder, Elwin LeBeau, was paid about $62,000.

In 1999, the Minnesota attorney general accused the organization of misleading donors. The state said its telemarketers implied it was a well-known wish-granting organization and claimed that a large portion of their gifts would help children in Minnesota.

The charity and its fundraiser agreed to pay about $60,000 to settle the case. Neither admitted wrongdoing. At the time, Wishing Well’s attorney, Matthew Brown, told the American Institute of Philanthropy, a watchdog organization, that the charity had stopped hiring professional fundraisers. But since then, the organization has spent almost $10 million on the for-profit companies.

When reached by phone, Robin Withers, an official at the charity, requested questions in writing. In response, the charity sent dozens of pages of photographs, newspaper articles and testimonials supporting the charity's work.

"We have tried in the past to operate without fundraiser assistance, but we could not grant the wishes of the children we wanted to help without fundraiser assistance," according to an unsigned statement included in the package. Withers did not respond to specific questions.

America's Worst Charities:
Our ranking based on cash paid to solicitors in the past decade

Law Enforcement

Disabled Police Officers of America Inc.

Also doing business as: Disabled And Retired Police Officers Educational Fund, Disabled Police Officers Charitable Fund

Our rank: #28

Terry and Lorna Morrison run two of the worst charities in America from the same office in Niceville, Fla. Disabled Police Officers Counseling Center was started in 1995 to educate the public and provide counseling to disabled officers. The Morrisons launched Disabled Police Officers of America in 1998 to provide financial assistance and scholarships to disabled and retired law enforcement officers.

Both charities have been dependent on telemarketers and direct mail companies for all revenue, tax filings show.

Over the past decade, Disabled Police Officers of America has raised $10.3 million and paid its for-profit fundraisers $8.1 million of that. It spent $254,000 on direct cash aid over the same period — about $25,000 a year in scholarships and financial aid for disabled police.

Though the couples' pay has fluctuated over the years, they have taken a total $1.3 million in salaries from both charities over the past decade.

The Morrisons took combined pay of about $31,000 from the charity in 2011, down dramatically from total compensation of $90,000 the year prior. The couple did not respond to requests for comment.

Morrison identifies himself as retired from the U.S. Park Police. His wife is a registered nurse.

On its website, the charity has posted this notice: "Revenue has been steadily decreasing for the past 2 years and is running dangerously low."

Its website lists recipients of scholarship money. The most recent scholarship award was given in August 2009. A roster of other financial aid recipients shows the most recent payment was made in January 2010.

America's Worst Charities:
Our ranking based on cash paid to solicitors in the past decade

Law Enforcement

Disabled Police and Sheriffs Foundation

Also doing business as: American Police and Sheriffs Association Inc.

Our rank: #29

Two couples in New England started this badge charity in 2002 to give financial assistance to disabled officers and train police in subjects ranging from close-quarter shooting to knife defense.

Though the group has changed its name five times, professional fundraisers have been able to pull in nearly $9 million in donations over the past decade. About 85 percent of the money stayed with the solicitors. Grants to disabled officers or families of fallen officers have averaged less than $9,000 a year.

The charity also solicits under the name "Police Officers Safety Association."

The same couples, David and Jill Kenik and Ralph and Barbara Mroz, started a second charity in 2008. Firefighters Support Foundation also relies on high-cost telemarketers, which kept 90 percent of the $3.6 million raised from the public in 2011. The charity says it helps train and equip underfunded agencies and assists the families of fallen firefighters. In 2011, that aid amounted to less than $65,000.

Between the two groups, the couples made $234,146 in total compensation in 2011.

Barbara Mroz was a paid administrator for both charities. But in June 2011, the Mroz couple ended their affiliation with the badge charity, according to an email charity officials sent reporters.

Ralph and Barbara Mroz run the firefighters' group, with Ralph Mroz as president.

David Kenik is executive director of the Disabled Police and Sheriffs Foundation. Jill Kenik is president, an unpaid position.

None of the charities' executives responded to repeated requests for further information.

Disabled Police and Sheriffs Foundation produces new training videos at least quarterly, said Frank Borelli, editorial director of Officer.com, a website that disseminates the information to law enforcement.

"They have produced well over five dozen videos and 20 or more articles that they've provided to us free of charge," Borelli said. "We appreciate what they contribute."

Though an auditor's report in 2010 said Disabled Police and Sheriffs Foundation was discussing "winding down operations" in 2012, the charity's website still asks for donations.

America's Worst Charities:
Our ranking based on cash paid to solicitors in the past decade

Law Enforcement

National Police Defense Foundation

Our rank: #30

The National Police Defense Foundation offers medical and legal support to law enforcement officers and free fingerprinting for children. It also pays cash rewards to people who help solve officer shootings.

 

Of the $10 million raised over the past decade, $8 million has gone to professional fundraisers. About five percent of the money raised has been spent on legal defense, rewards and other direct cash aid.

 

Operating out of a small office in New Jersey, the founder, retired INS agent Joe Occhipinti, proudly talks about his days as a federal agent infiltrating a drug cartel. Since shortly after retiring in 1990, he has served as president of the charity. His office is overflowing with copies of donors' checks, weekly fundraising reports and background investigations on the charity's telemarketers. Occhipinti said he reviews them to make sure the charity isn't being duped.

 

He said professional solicitors guarantee him a stream of cash without requiring his organization to take on any risk. He said he understands why donors are frustrated and wants to wean his charity off of high-cost fundraising. He said he has successfully pressed telemarketers to reduce their fees. But each time he tries to negotiate, he said, he worries that fundraisers will prioritize more profitable contracts and make fewer calls on his organization's behalf.

 

Occhipinti and other charity officers are unpaid. Occhipinti's wife is paid $66,409 a year as office administrator.

 

America's Worst Charities:
Our ranking based on cash paid to solicitors in the past decade

Disease/Disability

Defeat Diabetes Foundation

Our rank: #31

Andy Mandell said his struggle with diabetes made him want to help others. So in 1991, he and his brother Jerald launched Defeat Diabetes Foundation in Madeira Beach, Fla., and started their own efforts to raise awareness about the disease.

The Mandell brothers hired their younger sister as their secretary. They rented an office and now pay themselves retirement salaries of about $30,000 each a year.

Then they turned to professional fundraisers to generate donations.

That decision helped make Defeat Diabetes one of the worst charities in America. It comes in at No. 29 on the Times/CIR list. Over the past decade, the charity has raised $13.8 million in cash donations and steered $8.3 million of that to its for-profit fundraisers. The charity has spent an average of about $1,000 cash a year for direct aid to diabetes patients.

In 2011, the charity gave away about 300 blood sugar meters that had been donated to the group. Total cash out of pocket: $761 to ship the meters.

After fundraising expenses, most of the charity's resources go to pay overhead and to cover the costs of Andy Mandell's speaking engagements. Calling himself "Mr. Diabetes, " Mandell visits about 80 schools a year, warning students to eat right and exercise to avoid diabetes.

Though money is tight — the Mandell brothers have lent the charity $400,000 — Defeat Diabetes has dabbled in foreign aid. In 2010, the charity paid $18,000 to ship donated eyeglasses and other medical supplies to needy kids in Guatemala.

The donations, valued by the charity at $1.2 million, made Defeat Diabetes’ fundraising costs look lower on paper. But the Mandells said that wasn’t their goal.

Though the shipments weren’t targeted to diabetics, they may have been among the recipients, Jerald Mandell said.

“We got a letter from the sisters of something or other,” he said of the latest shipment. “Some hospital or orphanage got it.”

America's Worst Charities:
Our ranking based on cash paid to solicitors in the past decade

Disease/Disability

American Association of the Deaf & Blind

Our rank: #32

Created in 1984, American Association of the Deaf and Blind raised nearly $1 million annually for years through fundraisers that kept about 75 percent of the proceeds. The group's stated mission is to help deaf and blind people live independent, productive lives.

In 2010, a new director ended the use of professional solicitors and now raises most of the charity's funds charging fees to host conferences. That year, the charity's donations dropped to about $130,000.

In the decade before dropping professional fundraisers, the charity raised a total of $10 million and spent no more than $8,000 in cash on the deaf and blind. The money left after fundraisers took their cut paid primarily for production of a braille magazine with a circulation of 600. The group also has held seminars for the deaf and blind.

The charity's officers did not respond to several requests for comments.

America's Worst Charities:
Our ranking based on cash paid to solicitors in the past decade

Disease/Disability

Optimal Medical Foundation

Also doing business as: Association for Breast Cancer Research, Childhood Disease Research Foundation, National Charity for Cancer Research

Our rank: #33

Canadian regulators flagged Janet Eland Greenhalgh's charity for high fundraising costs and doing business with related for-profit companies. Within a year, Greenhalgh had started a new charity, this one in the United States, where fundraising costs are rarely, if ever, a cause for regulator action.

When it applied to the IRS for tax-exempt status, Optimal Medical Foundation estimated it would spend 70 percent of its income, resources and time on research. But tax filings over the past decade show that did not happen.

Instead, the charity raised $7.8 million and spent 97 percent of its donations paying for-profit solicitors. That's left almost nothing for the charity to spend on research into cancer and other childhood diseases — the cause telemarketers used to persuade donors to give.

The charity's single biggest research grant was $10,000, given to a for-profit company where Greenhalgh is vice president.

On paper, Optimal Medical appears to be a generous provider of donated drugs and medical supplies to groups overseas. But such non-cash donations, known as gifts-in-kind, have come under increasing scrutiny from regulators because their true value is hard to verify.

Greenhalgh did not respond to multiple requests for comment. When contacted by reporters, one charity director, Jacob Eapen, a pediatrician, said the board had not met in five years. Another, Robert Goldsmith, a retired professor, said he knew Greenhalgh, but denied ever being on the board. He submitted a formal complaint to the California attorney general after learning from reporters his name was listed on charity documents.

In a letter Greenhalgh wrote to Goldsmith, which he provided to reporters, she agreed to remove his name from the charity's website and filings.

America's Worst Charities:
Our ranking based on cash paid to solicitors in the past decade

Veterans

Circle of Friends For American Veterans

Also doing business as: American Homeless Veterans

Our rank: #34

When Brian Hampton started Circle of Friends for American Veterans in 1993, the charity ran a homeless shelter for 70 men. Hampton said he soon decided the group could have more impact if it promoted awareness of the needs of homeless veterans, instead of actually housing them.

Now the charity and an affiliate, Center for American Homeless Veterans, hold rallies around the country, getting politicians to speak and inviting the media. “Building a crowd is by far the hardest part,” said Hampton, who said his group has held 196 such rallies over the years.

A retired Army major who himself was once a professional fundraiser, Hampton defends telemarketing, even with its high cost.

“It’s a godsend,” he said. “I could have four full-time development people and they would cost me more than what these call centers cost. And those people would not have time to do anything else.”

Nor is he disappointed that after 20 years, Circle of Friends still relies on for-profit fundraisers that took 85 percent of every dollar raised, according to the group's most recent IRS filing.

The money that reaches the charity goes mostly toward salaries. Hampton received a combined salary of $188,000 in 2010 from Circle of Friends and Center for American Homeless Veterans.

That year, less than $3,000 was spent on direct assistance to veterans, the charity's tax filing shows. About $5,300 was donated to Hampton's other charity.

America's Worst Charities:
Our ranking based on cash paid to solicitors in the past decade

Disease/Disability

United Breast Cancer Foundation

Our rank: #35

United Breast Cancer Foundation is governed by the Mastroianni family and has no independent board members. The charity was founded in 2000. Audrey S. Mastroianni serves as executive director. Her father and brother serve on the board.

The charity's mission is to provide grants and assistance to patients and families coping with breast cancer. Beth Reichart, United Breast Cancer's director of operations, said the charity has assisted more than 630 people through its hands-on programs and educated thousands more.

The charity has raised about $11.5 million over the past 10 years and spent more than half of that on professional fundraisers.

About 6 percent of the money raised has been spent on direct financial assistance to those in need.

On its website, the charity takes applications for grants to pay for breast reconstruction. It charges a $50 nonrefundable deposit to apply.

Reichart said the charity works diligently to get the best returns possible from its telemarketers.

"Unfortunately, to date there are no laws that protect nonprofit organizations and regulate fundraising firms to ensure a respectable percentage of funds raised be retained by the nonprofit organization," she said. "This is a tragedy for many nonprofit organizations who struggle to fulfill their noble and worth-while missions. It would be wonderful if our government agencies championed on behalf of nonprofit organizations, ensuring greater fund retention."

Reichart said that over the past four years, United Breast Cancer has cut its fundraising expense by 11 percent. Last year, the charity kept about half of the money raised.

America's Worst Charities:
Our ranking based on cash paid to solicitors in the past decade

Law Enforcement

Reserve Police Officers Association

Also doing business as: Association for Deputy Sheriffs

Our rank: #36

Over the past decade, Reserve Police Officers Association has raised $8.7 million in donations by promising to support volunteer police departments.

Of every dollar given, Reserve Police has paid 90 cents to the professional solicitors it hires to call potential donors. On average, the group has spent less than $10,000 a year on cash grants and equipment for police departments.

The fraction of donations that the group keeps pays for legal fees, travel, a website and a conference that attracts about a dozen police departments.

Brooke Webster, the group's president, said because there are no paid employees, Reserve Police has no choice but to rely on professionals to raise money. Webster, who was formerly an auxiliary police officer, works full time as a sales manager for a hotel in Manhattan.

"The amount we get from fundraisers stacks up pretty well to other nonprofits," Webster said. "Reserve Police is difficult to sell to the public. People know what volunteer firefighters are, but not volunteer police."

The group's use of professional fundraisers has led to problems with regulators, however. One of its telemarketers closed in 2011 after Iowa regulators accused it of misleading donors. Two years earlier, Reserve Police Officers paid a $1,000 fine and agreed to stop soliciting in Washington state after regulators learned it was not registered there. The investigation began after a Washington resident complained about repeated phone calls from solicitors seeking money for the association.

Webster said a few problems are inevitable.

"You would not be able to run call rooms in all 50 states and not have regulator problems," he said. "Regulators make it so hard for fundraisers."

Reserve Police Officers Association is one of five groups on the Times/CIR list that is tax-exempt under IRS code but not as traditional 501c(3) charity. These groups still must register with state regulators to solicit donations, but the donations are not tax deductible. All five rely heavily on professional telemarketing companies to raise money.

America's Worst Charities:
Our ranking based on cash paid to solicitors in the past decade

Children/Families

Children's Leukemia Research Association

Also doing business as: National Leukemia Research Association

Our rank: #37

The website for Children's Leukemia Research Association has this hopeful message: "Research is the key to a cure ... and we are so close."

And unlike many of the charities on the Times/CIR worst list, Children's Leukemia gives money to researchers and spends cash on patient aid every year. But because the charity hires professional solicitors, only a fraction of what donors give ever makes it to the cause.

In 2011, the Long Island, N.Y., charity raised about $1.1 million. Its professional fundraisers kept about $800,000. About $160,000 went to research grants for five scientists.

Compare that to the Leukemia Research Foundation, an unrelated charity in Wilmette, Ill. It raised nearly $2 million the same year with no help from outside solicitors. The charity gave $800,000 in grants to researchers and an additional $200,000 in financial assistance to patients.

Allan Weinberg is the longtime executive director of Children's Leukemia Research Association. He said he recommended that the charity start using paid fundraisers in 2005. The charity, which was started in 1966, now raises more money but nets about the same after giving 70 percent of donations to the fundraiser.

Weinberg who works out of his waterfront condo in North Palm Beach, Fla., is paid $65,700 a year for a 25-hour-a-week position.

Weinberg also runs a second charity, Organ Donation and Transplant Association, from his condo. He said it's not fair to judge telemarketing results on a few years' returns. He said he hopes Children's Leukemia Research Association will be able reduce the percentage it pay solicitors in the future.

America's Worst Charities:
Our ranking based on cash paid to solicitors in the past decade

Law Enforcement

Disabled Police Officers Counseling Center

Our rank: #38

This charity, founded in 1995, is affiliated with Disabled Police Officers of America, which was started three years later. Both have been run from the same address by the same couple, Terry and Lorna Morrison, since their inceptions.

Both groups are on the Times/CIR list of the nation's worst charitiesAnd though the couples' pay has fluctuated through the years with the flow of donations, over the past decade they have taken a combined $1.3 million in salaries from the two groups.

Over the same period, the Counseling Center has raised about $8 million and paid 84 percent of that to its for-profit solicitors. It has spent an average of less than $1,000 a year on counseling services.

The charity's website says its founder has experience providing career counseling to disabled and retired police officers. But Jan Collier, a therapist who shares an office complex with the Morrisons in Niceville, Fla., said she has seen the couple only a handful of times in the past 10 years and has never seen anyone who appears to be a counseling client.

"Sometimes people show up trying to find them," Collier said. "But the door is always locked."

In its 2011 IRS filing, the charity did not report spending money on any counseling services. All expenses were related to overhead, including printing, postage and general administrative costs of about $15,000.

In 2011, neither of the Morrisons reported taking a salary from the Disabled Police Officers Counseling Center. The couple did take combined pay of about $30,000 from their second charity that year, however.

Reporters for the Times and CIR called both charities and got recordings that did not allow callers to leave a message. Emails sent to an address listed on the charities' websites were returned undeliverable. A certified letter delivered to the address on the charities' IRS filing was returned "unclaimed."

America's Worst Charities:
Our ranking based on cash paid to solicitors in the past decade

Religious

Shiloh International Ministries

Also doing business as: Handicapped Children's Services of America, American Veterans Network, Adolescent AIDS Foundation, Help Hospitalized Children Fund

Our rank: #39

Wallace Christensen, a minister, started Shiloh International Ministries in 1981.

Today, its IRS tax filings list this broad mission statement: "To provide medical necessities and moral support to needy children and to provide assistance to the homeless and hungry, our American veterans, children's hospItals and Christians in need everywhere."

But the charity has spent little cash on its cause. Over the past decade, it has raised $8 million and paid 78 percent of that to the professional solicitors it hired to find donors. In comparison, the charity spent less than 2 percent of donations on direct cash aid to the needy. In the same period, the charity paid its officers a total of $860,000 — nearly eight times more than the cash it spent on its cause.

In 2010, the charity was No. 1 on the Oregon attorney general's list of worst charities, which ranks organizations based on how little they spend on their charitable causes over a three-year period.

Officials at Shiloh did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

America's Worst Charities:
Our ranking based on cash paid to solicitors in the past decade

Children/Families

Find the Children

Our rank: #40

Find the Children was founded by Alan and Linda Landsburg in 1983. The charity's stated mission is to recover missing children and prevent child abuse.

Volunteers help distribute photos of missing children on fliers and stickers placed on vending machines. The charity also organizes presentations in Los Angeles County schools to teach kids how to protect themselves from abduction.

Most of the money collected from donors does not help families and children. About 65 percent goes directly to the charity's telemarketing and vehicle donation companies.

Over the past decade, Find the Children has raised $7.6 million and paid $5 million to its for-profit fundraisers. That makes it No. 41 on the Times/CIR list of America's worst charities.

"When people call and say, 'Why are you using telemarketing?' I explain that it’s a necessary evil with charities today," Executive Director Karen Strickland said. "My goal is to get as much service to our families as I can, so I'm not going to turn down $100,000."

Linda Landsburg died in 2004. Alan Landsburg is the chairman of the board. Strickland told a reporter her charity was not highly dependent on professional fundraisers and claimed they provided less than a third of its revenue. IRS records show that the charity gets about 90 percent of its revenue from professional fundraisers.

When reporters followed up for clarification, Strickland did not respond to multiple calls and emails.

Strickland is paid about $75,000 annually.

America's Worst Charities:
Our ranking based on cash paid to solicitors in the past decade

Disease/Disability

Survivors and Victims Empowered

Also doing business as: Child Protection Program, A Project Of Survivors And Victims Empowered, SAVE (Survivors And Victims Empowered)

Our rank: #41

Survivors and Victims Empowered was created to help prevent neglect and abuse. It publishes a child protection guide and newsletter on its website. The guide includes definitions and symptoms of abuse, reporting procedures, safety tips, referral resources and screening procedures.

Of the $8.6 million raised from 2001-2010, about 60 percent went to professional solicitors.

Survivors and Victims Empowered has pushed for restrictions on sex and violence on television. The president and founder of the charity, Phil Sheldon, is the son of the Rev. Lou Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition, a conservative Christian organization.

The Pennsylvania attorney general sued the charity twice, settling charges in 1993 and 1998 for misleading donors. In one case, the state alleged that of the $4 million listed as charitable expenses, less than 1 percent was spent on direct aid to children. About half of the organization's revenue went to distributing outdated vegetable seeds to Native Americans. The organization has a history of inflating the value of the donated seeds to make it appear the charity was spending more on its programs than it was, the Detroit Free Press reported at the time. Sheldon told the paper that distribution of seeds relates directly to his charity's mission to prevent child abuse because it fights child neglect by malnutrition.

Officials at the organization did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

America's Worst Charities:
Our ranking based on cash paid to solicitors in the past decade

Fire/Rescue

Firefighters Assistance Fund

Our rank: #42

Firefighters Assistance Fund is one of four groups on the Times/CIR list of worst charities that claim to help burn victims and underequipped fire departments.

Over the past eight years, Firefighters Assistance Fundhas raised $5.6 million and paid 83 percent of that to the companies that raise its donations. Over the same period, it has given out about $180,000 in direct cash aid, with cash grants dwindling over the past two years.

In its 2010 IRS tax filing, the charity reported spending about $26,000 on programs. About $8,200 of that was in cash to the needy or volunteer fire departments. The charity spent an additional $18,000 on coloring books and firefighting equipment. In 2011, the charity did not report making any cash grants.

Robert Amick, vice president of Firefighters Assistance Fund, spoke briefly by phone to a reporter, but declined to answer questions. He said his brother, Joe Amick, is the only paid employee. He was paid about $20,000 for his part-time position in 2011.

America's Worst Charities:
Our ranking based on cash paid to solicitors in the past decade

Children/Families

Caring for Our Children Foundation

Our rank: #43

For 17 years, Melody and Mike Gibson ran Operation Lookout, a Washington-based charity that says it helps the families of missing children. When donations began to flag in 2001, the Gibsons formed a second charity that was designed to raise additional donations and send any money left after expenses to Operation Lookout.

Caring for Our Children Foundation's sole purpose, according to Melody Gibson, is to "raise funds for Operation Lookout's overhead and at-risk youth projects."

Both of the Gibsons' charities are among the worst in the nation, according to the Times/CIR investigation. Over the past decade, Caring for Our Children has raised $4.7 million and paid $4.1 million of that to professional solicitors. The charity sent an average of $22,000 a year to Operation Lookout to be spent on programs and overhead.

On tax filings in 2011, the Gibsons reported taking no salary from Caring for Our Children.

For about a year, Caring for Our Children operated a thrift store, paying Melody Gibson $4,500 as manager. According to the charity, the store also offered training to unemployed parents. The Gibsons closed the store in 2012 when it began losing money.

Melody Gibson, who is now the unpaid treasurer for Caring for Our Children, said the charity offers nonmonetary services to parents, including hosting a website that has articles about child abuse and sexual assault. She said it also offers Operation Lookout administrative services, which allow that charity to have lower overhead costs and focus "solely on missing child casework."

Gibson said outside solicitors not only raise money, they also perform charitable work by telling the public about the two charities' programs. Gibson called the fundraising arrangement "a cost-effective formula for the charity."

"The call center is not pocketing funds and duping donors," she said.

America's Worst Charities:
Our ranking based on cash paid to solicitors in the past decade

Law Enforcement

National Narcotic Officers Associations Coalition

Our rank: #44

National Narcotic Officers Associations Coalition is a volunteer-run organization that lobbies for legislation on behalf of 45 law enforcement groups representing 65,000 narcotics officers across the country.

Because of its lobbying activities, donations to the nonprofit group are not tax deductible. So why has National Narcotic Officers Associations Coalition hired telemarketers to raise donations from the public for the past decade?

Richard Sloan, the group's president, said membership dues of $500 a year for each state just aren't enough to support the organization.

"We're looking at getting donations from businesses," Sloan told a reporter. "In today's market, people are just not giving money, especially to law enforcement."

Over the past decade, however, the group has raised $4.8 million from the public. About 84 percent of that — $4 million — has been paid to the professional solicitation companies that generated the donations.

Other than solicitation fees, the group's largest expenditure is its annual conference in Washington, D.C. At the meeting, representatives of the state associations are briefed on pending legislation related to the nation's drug policy and law enforcement in general. Sloan said one of the group's big priorities is ensuring that funding continues for multijurisdictional drug task forces.

The National Narcotic Officers Associations Coalition is one of five groups on the Times/CIR list that is tax exempt under IRS code but not as a traditional 501c(3) charity. These groups still must register with state regulators to solicit donations, but the donations are not tax deductible. All five rely heavily on professional telemarketing companies to raise money.

 

America's Worst Charities:
Our ranking based on cash paid to solicitors in the past decade

Veterans

Our American Veterans

Our rank: #45

For seven years, Our American Veterans raised money in the name of helping needy vets. Over that time, just a few pennies of every dollar raised was given out as aid.

Reports filed with state regulators stated that help would take the form of "housing, job search and placement, transportation, clothing, food, and medical assistance." On the basis of such promises, donors gave $2.6 million from 2003 to 2009. The charity spent $2.3 million of that paying for-profit solicitation companies.

Less than $80,000 of what was raised was spent on direct financial aid to veterans. Over the same period, the charity paid its president and his wife more than $116,000.

In 2009, regulators in two states sued the charity, claiming it was deceiving donors about how their cash was being used. Missouri assessed a $120,000 penalty. Founder Sidney Young shut down his charity.

But the story doesn't end there. Young used a variation of his name — Oliver S. Young — to start a new charity. The same year he dissolved Our American Veterans, Young launched American's Helping Veterans Corp. from the same address in Fort Valley, Ga.

Much like Our American Veterans, the new charity says it provides veterans with direct support. But it has followed a familiar formula. In 2010, the charity raised $420,000 through professional solicitors. It paid those for-profit companies 80 cents of every dollar raised.

Young, now 74, and his wife earned a combined $31,000 for their work at American's Helping Veterans Corp. in 2010.

Reporters mailed a certified letter to the address listed on the charity's most recent tax filing. The letter was returned undeliverable. The phone number listed for the charity in IRS documents is disconnected.

America's Worst Charities:
Our ranking based on cash paid to solicitors in the past decade

Disease/Disability

Roger Wyburn-Mason & Jack M Blount Foundation For Eradication of Rheumatoid Disease

Also doing business as: The Arthritis Trust of America, The Rheumatoid Disease Foundation, Osteoporosis Fund Of America

Our rank: #46

Perry Chapdelaine, an 88-year-old doctor, runs this charity from his house on Sweet Gum Road in Tennessee.

Chapdelaine said that after he was cured of rheumatoid arthritis using an alternative treatment program, he dedicated himself to educating others about cures for the disease. He tried to get the Arthritis Foundation interested in his work many years ago. When that didn't work, he joined forces with other doctors to start his own organization.

That translates into a job for Chapdelaine, who took a $20,000-a-year salary to write articles about arthritis that he publishes on his charity's website. He also provides physician referrals.

Chapdelaine has also written science fiction stories, sometimes under the name Anthony di Fabio.

The charity, which raises donations under three additional names, including The Arthritis Trust of America, relies almost exclusively on two related professional solicitation companies to cold call potential donors and send out sweepstakes mailers to home addresses across the nation.

Over the past decade, donors have given about $8.4 million. The charity incorrectly filled out reports filed with the IRS, so its total solicitation costs can't be determined from public records. However, reports filed with state regulators show the charity typically guarantees solicitors will get 80 to 90 cents of every dollar raised.

Chapdelaine said his organization is providing a vital service. "We’ll send you to a doctor to get help. We get 2,500 hits on our website every day. We are giving great benefits to people," he said. "It really bothers me that the cost-to-benefit ratio is so highly used."

America's Worst Charities:
Our ranking based on cash paid to solicitors in the past decade

Disease/Disability

Hope Cancer Fund

Our rank: #47

Founded in 1994, Hope Cancer Fund was created to provide financial assistance to cancer patients. Since its inception, however, it has spent far more on for-profit solicitors than on patients.

Over the past decade, Hope Cancer Fund raised $1.9 million and paid $1.5 million of that to its professional solicitors. The charity gave patients a total of $10,000 in direct cash aid over the same period.

One of the charity's board members, Robin Monville, was married to the owner of a company that brokers contracts between charities and professional fundraisers. Hope Cancer Fund paid the company $16,000 in 2010.

The couple filed for divorce in 2010.

The charity was inactive from 2006 to 2009 but has recently resumed its fundraising efforts, according to its filings with the IRS. However, a button on the charity's website that encourages donors to give was not functioning in June 2013.

Officials at the organization did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

America's Worst Charities:
Our ranking based on cash paid to solicitors in the past decade

Fire/Rescue

Firefighters Burn Fund

Our rank: #48

Ron Lagur had been a broker for years, matching charities with telemarketers and taking a cut of the donations for his trouble. When he retired in 2007, however, Lagur didn't get out of the business. Instead, he helped his wife, Cathy Simpkins, start Firefighters Burn Fund. Then he used his connections to help her find solicitors.

In the four years since, those telemarketers have been the primary beneficiaries. Firefighters Burn Fund has raised about $2 million. Fundraisers kept 82 percent. The charity has given cash grants of $30,000 over that time, though its IRS filings do not include details about the recipients. Simpkins is the only paid employee, receiving about $45,000 in 2011.

When Simpkins was looking for fundraisers in 2009, she wrote to a telemarketer in Iowa describing her charity as a "soft sell with excellent returns." The Iowa solicitor took on Firefighters Burn Fund, but it was a short-lived relationship. In November 2010, the Iowa attorney general's office filed a consumer fraud lawsuit against the telemarketer, who agreed to close his business.

To settle Iowa regulators' claims that Firefighters Burn Fund had not adequately monitored the telemarketer, Simpkins signed an agreement in early 2011 that prevents the charity from soliciting in that state for seven years.

Neither Simkins nor Lagur responded to calls or a certified letter seeking comment.