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My son recently went on a student trip with a nonprofit organization. We were very disappointed in the difference between what they had advertised and what they actually delivered.  We paid $2500 and did not get what they promised.  How can I report my experience to an agency that will look into this?

Ordinarily, unless something really untoward happened, I would just say chalk it up to bad luck and learn from the situation.  But in this case, you might want to complain to the Attorney General for consumer affairs either in your home state or the state in which the organization is located.

Why do I say that in this case?  Because I looked at the organization’s website and found some really sloppy, and potentially disturbing things.  It is a significant organization that works with students all over the country and has a lot of big names on its Board.  But it asks for contributions and tells me it is a 501(c) organization. Then it tells me my contribution “might” be tax deductible if I consult my tax adviser.  If it is not a 501(c)(3) organization my donation is not likely to be tax deductible, but it starts out by failing to tell me it is a (c)(3).  (See Ready Reference Page:  “What Do We Mean When We Say ‘Nonprofit’?”)  Then it allows me to sponsor a school or a student, with a proper participant code.  Is it allowing donors to “sponsor” specific students, where the contribution would not be deductible, and letting them think it is deductible?  I didn’t have a code so I couldn’t see what it says.

I checked on GuideStar to see that it actually is a (c)(3).  It claims to file its Form 990 in more than 20 states, which is usually required for charitable solicitation registration.  It is registered to solicit contributions in its home state, but it is not current in either of the other two states I checked.

I admit that I am a little nerdy about this kind of thing, but I am sure I am not alone.  I point it out simply to warn charities that some people actually read what they say on their websites, and, to avoid raising suspicions, those sites ought to reflect care and compliance with the law.

February 17, 2009

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