Local charities report 40% of their contributions come during the holiday season. You can imagine how difficult it would be to keep the doors open if a scammer steals that money. That's what happened to Jackson's Stewpot Community Services last winter. Someone filed a fraudulent change-of-address for Stewpot. Donation money people thought was going to one of the organization's ministries went to a vacant house in South Jackson. Their homeless shelters, child care centers and meal services lost out on $100,000. Stewpot officials refused to give up hope. Generous Mississippians opened their hearts and their wallets again, and now Stewpot is doing better than ever.
"Faith required us to pray for the individuals that did it, and so we've done that," says Stewpot's Executive Director, Rev. Frank Spencer. "We went through the Christmas time, and New Years time, and we were actually able to cover our expenses."
Until July. The money ran out. Stewpot was forced to close its women's shelter and homeless shelter. Then, Reverend Spencer says Mississippians came through in a big way.
"Several foundations and individuals jumped in to help, and it turned out that they were closed for maybe two days before we were able to re-open them," says Rev. Spencer.
Stewpot serves 650 people everyday. It's an example of an organization the Better Business Bureau puts its name behind.
"We want people to be informed before they give," says John O'Hara, President and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Mississippi.
O'Hara says some charities aren't what they seem.
"There are some charities out there that as little as 2-3% actually go to the cause," says O'Hara.
As for the other 98%?
"It goes to their marketing and salaries," says O'Hara.
We've all heard of Make-A-Wish, which grants wishes for sick children. Make-A-Wish is accredited by the BBB. But have you ever heard of the Kids Wish Network?
"Only 2.5% goes to the cause," says O'Hara. "But people may confuse it with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, because they hear the word "wish" in it."
O'Hara shared with us a list of America's Worst Charities determined by the Center For Investigative Reporting. Find it here.
To be accredited by the BBB, at least 35% of money raised must go to the organization's cause.
"Everything is filled out properly, that they are disclosing all their financial information, how they raise their money, how they solicit it, how they advertise and make sure that they're following the proper BBB guidelines," says O'Hara.
45 local charities are accredited by the BBB. Find the list here. Stewpot is one of them. Reverend Spencer is proud to say only 17% of Stewpot donations are used for administrative costs. That means 83% helps those who need it most.
Rev. Spencer is excited Stewpot landed on its feet after last year's misfortune. He warns other good charities not to fall victim to the same kind of scam, and he warns Mississippians to be careful giving money.
"People need to check their checking accounts frequently," says Rev. Spencer.
And he continues to pray for the people who scammed Stewpot.
"Hopefully they'll turn from their ways and become productive citizens and help people sometime during their life to come," he says.
The BBB publishes a Wise Giving Guide every year with information about national charities. You can contact the local office at 601-398-1700.
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