School-fundraising portal vanishes — along with cash

BY MICAELA MACAGNONE | NYCharities is an online contributions portal that many nonprofit organizations and New York City parent-teacher associations use to manage donations. Web sites of organizations that use NYCharities often include a “donate” button that links directly to the NYCharities Web site. NYCharities then maximizes organizations’ abilities to get donations; it allows the donor to create a recurring donation, asks if the donor works for a company with a matching-gifts program, and offers tiered ticket pricing when organizations have ticketed events.

All nonprofits are required to file a Form 990, which is a federal tax return exempting charities and nonprofits from income tax. In August 2018, NYCharities’ nonprofit status was revoked by the Internal Revenue Service for “not filing a Form 990-series return or notice for three consecutive years.” NYCharities did not publicly report this revocation.

NYCharities has “gone into ghost mode.”

NYCharities has gone into ghost mode. Phone calls to its office and knocks on its door are not answered, as are most e-mails. Google Reviews throughout the last month have featured warnings like, “FELLOW DONORS & CHARITIES PLEASE SUBMIT A COMPLAINT TO THE NYS ATTORNEY GENERAL. — This nonprofit has disappeared with countless donations it received on behalf of other non profits. The total amount could amount to federal charges…” and “The nycharities website is down. They have taken donations on our company’s behalf and now I am concerned I may not get that money…” and “Sent a complaint form to the NYS AG office. We did as we are very concerned about no communication from NYCharities, and what is happening to recurring monthly donation… .”

The last time the organization posted on Facebook and Twitter was last November. Three organizations that worked with NYCharities, the P.T.A. for P.S. 110 (in Greenpoint, Brooklyn), Class Size Matters and Little Essentials, have not received any donations from NYCharities since May.

In 2015, the P.S. 110 P.T.A. obtained 501(c)(3) nonprofit status. Parents involved in other nonprofits at the time had recommended NYCharities. Erica Young, the school’s P.T.A. president, said past interactions with NYCharities were normal: NYCharities would send the P.T.A. a check once a month, with the money donated through the Web site. The only thing that stuck out to Young was that names were never used in e-mails from NYCharities: No name signed off on e-mail exchanges.

Last week, however, Young was redesigning the P.T.A.’s Web site and realized that the “Donate” button wasn’t working. Initially, she thought it was just a glitch. The following day, she got a phone call from a parent whose nonprofit also works with NYCharities, who told Young to check and see if she had received a June deposit from NYCharities, because her organization had not. Young realized they had not received a check; the last one they received from NYCharities was May 8, though the NYCharities Web site showed that it had “processed” all 138 donations it received from May and June. Young called and e-mailed NYCharities but received no response.

The P.S. 110 P.T.A. is owed $10,000 by NYCharities. The P.T.A. is responsible for all the Brooklyn school’s art-enrichment programs; this past year the P.T.A. paid for art residencies, a program in the cafeteria called Wellness in the Schools, and an orchestra program with Carnegie Hall.

After not receiving a response from NYCharities for a few days, Young called the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and went to the 94th Precinct, in Greenpoint. Police at the precinct told her that because the money wasn’t technically stolen from Young herself, donors themselves would have to come in to the precinct if they wanted to press charges or make a formal complaint.

Leonie Haimson, the executive director of Class Size Matters, a nonprofit organization that advocates for smaller classes in the city’s public schools, is owed about $7,000 from NYCharities. Haimson is one of the few who has been able to get in contact with NYCharities by e-mail in the last two months. She e-mailed them on July 16 at 9:30 p.m., asking for the whereabouts of May and June donations. NYCharities responded at 10:30 p.m., saying: “We switched banks in June, and so sent most every charity amount by check. Is it possible that it wasn’t accounted for because of the way it came in?”

Again, no name was used in the e-mail — and Haimson received no check. She reached out to the New York State Attorney General’s Office about the matter but received no information.

Wendy Moore, the executive director of Little Essentials, tells a story similar to that of Young and Haimson. Little Essentials is an organization that offers “at-risk families living in poverty urgently needed children’s supplies and parenting education.” The group has used NYCharities without incident since 2012. But Moore realized something was wrong when they didn’t receive donations from May. Since then she has submitted complaints to the state attorney general and the New York State Charities Bureau. Moore, Young and Haimson all said they are concerned about asking people to cancel their recurring donations, and then asking them to recommit to contributing again on a different platform.

The list of the board of directors and board of advisers on NYCharities’ Web site is extensive, including more than 50 influential names, along with their companies and roles each person holds at their company. Among them are Silda Wall, founder of the Children For Children Foundation and ex-wife of former Governor Eliot Spitzer; John Haworth, director of the George Gustav Heye Center at the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian; Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari; Charles Radcliffe, senior vice president at Morgan Stanley; and Janice Reals Ellig, co-C.E.O., Chadick Ellig.

The offices of the state attorney general and Manhattan district attorney have both been informed of NYCharities’ unresponsiveness and the money it owes to P.T.A.’s and other school groups.

However, the A.G.’s office did not respond to e-mails or phone calls requesting comment from this paper; no one picked up repeated calls to the press line. The D.A.’s office declined to comment, and a spokesperson there would neither confirm nor deny if there is an active investigation into NYCharities.