Re­lief groups wait on mil­lions pledged

Two months after Har­vey, some firms have yet to make char­i­ta­ble pay­ments

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - By Emily L. Mahoney

After Hur­ri­cane Har­vey made land­fall Aug. 25, ma­jor cor­po­ra­tions such as Exxon Mo­bil Corp., Home De­pot Inc. and Kel­logg Co. an­nounced big fi­nan­cial pledges to help the peo­ple of Texas and Louisiana feed their fam­i­lies and re­build their homes.

Two months later, at least $76 mil­lion in pledges from com­pa­nies, foun­da­tions and in­di­vid­u­als still has not been de­liv­ered to the des­ig­nated char­i­ties, a Hous­ton Chron­i­cle re­view found.

The Chron­i­cle can­vassed 18 char­i­ties that were among the ma­jor re­cip­i­ents of cor­po­rate pledges. Of those, nine — in­clud­ing United Way World­wide and Mayor Sylvester Turner’s Hur­ri­cane Har­vey Re­lief Fund — dis­closed the amounts promised to them ver­sus what they have ac­tu­ally re­ceived.

All told, those char­i­ties re-

ceived about $315 mil­lion in pledges — and are still wait­ing to see $76.8 mil­lion of the money, or about 24 per­cent.

The to­tal of un­ful­filled pledges is likely much larger than that fig­ure sug­gests be­cause many char­i­ties, in­clud­ing mas­sive or­ga­ni­za­tions like the Amer­i­can Red Cross and the Sal­va­tion Army, de­clined to re­veal the amount of do­na­tions still out­stand­ing.

Donors that have yet to de­liver in full on their com­mit­ments in­clude some of the big­gest names in cor­po­rate Amer­ica.

Google pledged $2 mil­lion to five char­i­ties, through a com­bi­na­tion of com­pany con­tri­bu­tions and pub­lic giv­ing. On Aug. 29 — the day a levee at Columbia Lake in Bra­zo­ria County was breached — Google pub­lished a plea on its on­line char­ity por­tal, say­ing that “with flood­wa­ters con­tin­u­ing to rise, im­me­di­ate ac­tion is needed.”

As of last week, three of the five char­i­ties — Save the Chil­dren, Habi­tat for Hu­man­ity In­ter­na­tional and Team Ru­bi­con, a non­profit that de­ploys mil­i­tary vet­er­ans to nat­u­ral dis­as­ters — said they had not re­ceived do­na­tions from the tech gi­ant.

The two other or­ga­ni­za­tions — the Re­build Texas Fund and the Amer­i­can Red Cross — did not pro­vide in­for­ma­tion on the sta­tus of Google’s pledge.

A Google spokes­woman, Kayla Conti, said Fri­day that the com­pany rec­og­nized “the im­por­tance of re­ceiv­ing crit­i­cal funds in a timely man­ner, es­pe­cially in times of cri­sis,” and was “on track to dis­burse funds through our trusted third­party part­ners.” Pro­cess­ing do­na­tions

Also on Aug. 29, eBay posted a news re­lease on its web­site ask­ing cus­tomers to give money to four sep­a­rate Har­vey re­lief char­i­ties and pledg­ing to match do­na­tions up to a to­tal of $250,000. The e-com­merce com­pany said it would do­nate an ad­di­tional $100,000 to “re­lief ef­forts through­out the Gulf Coast.”

Two of the four des­ig­nated char­i­ties, Team Ru­bi­con and Save the Chil­dren, said they had not yet re­ceived money from eBay. Di­rect Re­lief, a non­profit that dis­trib­utes pre­scrip­tion med­i­ca­tions, said it had re­ceived a par­tial pay­ment. The fourth char­ity, the Amer­i­can Red Cross, de­clined to com­ment.

EBay told the Chron­i­cle that it was work­ing with the PayPal Giv­ing Fund to en­sure that the re­cip­i­ent groups were reg­is­tered char­i­ties that “meet high stan­dards of in­tegrity.”

“Once vet­ted, eBay pays out each char­ity on a monthly ba­sis,” the com­pany said in a state­ment. “We an­tic­i­pate that (the char­i­ties) will be paid out by the end of Oc­to­ber.”

Pearson, an ed­u­ca­tional prod­ucts and ser­vices com­pany, started an in­ter­nal fundrais­ing ef­fort Aug. 28. The com­pany promised to match em­ployee do­na­tions. The pledge is among hun­dreds in­cluded in a list of cor­po­rate com­mit­ments to Har­vey re­lief pub­lished by the U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce Foundation.

Pearson told the Chron­i­cle that the ef­fort raised $150,000 for six char­i­ties.

Yet five of those char­i­ties — the Hous­ton Food Bank, the United Way of Greater Hous­ton, Save the Chil­dren, Feed­ing Texas and the DePelchin Chil­dren’s Cen­ter in Hous­ton — said they could find no record of do­na­tions from Pearson.

Asked for com­ment, Pearson said that it had paid half the pledged amount and that the rest was on its way.

“Like many com­pa­nies, Pearson uses a third-party ven­dor to man­age our em­ployee giv­ing pro­gram and it takes time for that ven­dor to process and re­mit those do­na­tions to the char­i­ties,” com­pany spokesman Scott Over­land said by email. “To date, more than half of the do­na­tions have been re­mit­ted to the six des­ig­nated char­i­ties and we ex­pect the full amount to be paid by the end of Novem­ber.”

Doug White, for­mer di­rec­tor of the non­profit man­age­ment pro­gram at Columbia Uni­ver­sity in New York and now an ad­viser to donors, said the de­lay in con­vert­ing cor­po­rate pledges to money in the bank was un­ac­cept­able.

“They take for­ever be­cause it’s a bu­reau­cracy,” he said. “It may be nor­mal, but it is a tragedy … be­cause peo­ple in Puerto Rico and in Florida and Texas and Cal­i­for­nia all need boots on the ground and money now, and the cor­po­rate process doesn’t have the mind­set to deal with that ur­gency.

“Cor­po­ra­tions are not in the business of be­ing char­i­ta­ble; they’re in the business of pro­mot­ing them­selves,” he said. “To say they’ve done ‘X’ for the char­ity checks that box, and to do some­thing in fol­low-up is less ur­gent.” No hasty de­ci­sions

In all, more than $700 mil­lion has been pledged to ma­jor char­i­ties for Har­vey re­lief, from all types of donors.

In­di­vid­u­als typ­i­cally give im­me­di­ately through on­line por­tals or tex­ting cam­paigns. Cor­po­ra­tions take longer be­cause com­mit­ments may have to wait for board ap­proval, or for the char­ity re­cip­i­ents to be vet­ted, or for the end of a monthly billing cy­cle.

Eu­gene Tem­pel, found­ing dean emer­i­tus and pro­fes­sor at the In­di­ana Uni­ver­sity School of Phi­lan­thropy, said cor­po­ra­tions are re­spon­si­ble to share­hold­ers and have good rea­son to avoid mak­ing char­i­ta­ble do­na­tions in haste. But they can move faster, he said.

“You would think by the end of two months most or­ga­ni­za­tions would have had a chance to get this put in place,” Tem­pel said.

Some ma­jor com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing Exxon Mo­bil, Home De­pot and Kel­logg, have paid their pledged Har­vey re­lief do­na­tions in full, ac­cord­ing to the re­cip­i­ent char­i­ties.

Hearst Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Inc., the Chron­i­cle’s par­ent com­pany, pledged $1.4 mil­lion to the Greater Hous­ton Red Cross, through a $1 mil­lion cor­po­rate do­na­tion and a $400,000 match of em­ploy­ees’ $200,000 in do­na­tions.

The ini­tial $1 mil­lion was sent to the Red Cross early last month, and the rest of the money had been de­liv­ered by mid-Oc­to­ber, ac­cord­ing to a Hearst spokesman. The com­pany also gave $200,000 to the South­east Texas Food Bank.

The im­pact of de­layed pledges varies from one char­ity to the next. Larger or­ga­ni­za­tions can draw on cash re­serves to put food, cloth­ing or cash in the hands of storm vic­tims im­me­di­ately. And some cor­po­rate gifts are des­ig­nated for longer-term needs, such as re­build­ing parks and schools.

But char­i­ties can be put in a bind when promised fund­ing is slow to ma­te­ri­al­ize.

The Hous­ton Food Bank was promised $25.2 mil­lion for Har­vey re­lief. The non­profit pur­chased or leased fork­lifts, trucks, ware­house space and food, bank­ing on the pledged do­na­tions to come through in time to pay the bills.

“It’s a rea­son­ably ed­u­cated leap of faith, but … it’s the big­gest leap of faith we’ve ever done,” said Brian Greene, pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of the food bank.

At the be­gin­ning of this month, the or­ga­ni­za­tion was still wait­ing on $1.7 mil­lion in promised do­na­tions. Greene’s faith was even­tu­ally re­warded, how­ever: As of this week, only $175,000 was still out­stand­ing. Spe­cific pur­poses

On Aug. 29, AT&T pledged a to­tal of $350,000 to Har­vey re­lief. Of that, $50,000 was promised to the Coastal Bend Com­mu­nity Foundation, a Cor­pus Christi group that makes grants to char­i­ties, school dis­tricts and lo­cal gov­ern­ments in the ru­ral Gulf Coast area.

As of mid-Oc­to­ber, the foundation had not got­ten the money. On Oct. 18, the Chron­i­cle called AT&T to ask about the pledge. Two days later, a $50,000 check from AT&T was hand-de­liv­ered to the foundation, ac­cord­ing to its pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive, Karen Se­lim.

A lag be­tween pledge and pay­ment can put a squeeze on small, lo­cal char­i­ties.

“We are able to make grants from what we get, pe­riod,” Se­lim said of her or­ga­ni­za­tion. “We’re not able to front it.”

Money is given to the foundation for spe­cific pur­poses, she said, adding: “I can’t take schol­ar­ship money and move it to hur­ri­cane re­lief be­cause that’s il­le­gal, to be frank about it. … To use money that’s des­ig­nated for a cer­tain pur­pose for oth­ers, that’s the end of that char­ity.”

For­tu­nately, she said, the foundation had some money avail­able for im­me­di­ate post-Har­vey needs, in­clud­ing emer­gency grants to four Gulf cities. Se­lim said the AT&T do­na­tion will be used for long-term re­cov­ery ef­forts, such as fi­nan­cial help for low-in­come fam­i­lies, vet­er­ans, the el­derly and the dis­abled.

None of the char­i­ties con­tacted by the Chron­i­cle said it had to with­hold ser­vices be­cause of de­lays in re­ceiv­ing do­na­tions.

Of the $76.8 mil­lion in out­stand­ing pledges doc­u­mented by the Chron­i­cle, $48 mil­lion is owed to the Re­build Texas Fund, cre­ated by the Michael and Su­san Dell Foundation and the On­eS­tar Foundation. The fund is fo­cused largely on long-term re­build­ing ef­forts ben­e­fit­ing chil­dren and other vul­ner­a­ble groups.

Lori Fey, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Re­build Texas, said some of the do­na­tions have been de­layed by cor­po­rate bu­reau­cracy, but oth­ers are associated with mul­ti­year grant agree­ments or were gifts of stock that need to be liq­ui­dated.

Team Ru­bi­con, based in Los An­ge­les, tracks the money pledged to it for Har­vey re­lief, along with the amounts re­ceived, on an on­line dash­board.

The dis­play serves as a pub­lic score­card on how well donors are car­ry­ing through on com­mit­ments. It shows pledges and ac­tual pay­ments in three cat­e­gories — cor­po­ra­tions, foun­da­tions and house­holds. House­holds have paid all their pledges for Har­vey re­lief. Foun­da­tions pledged $3.5 mil­lion and are within $400,000 of reach­ing that goal.

Cor­po­ra­tions aren’t do­ing as well. Of ap­prox­i­mately $4.3 mil­lion in out­stand­ing pledges to Team Ru­bi­con, $3.9 mil­lion — or 90 per­cent – was owed by cor­po­ra­tions. Trans­parency crit­i­cal

Matt Scott, deputy di­rec­tor of de­vel­op­ment op­er­a­tions for Team Ru­bi­con, said the or­ga­ni­za­tion un­der­stands that cor­po­rate donors must vet char­i­ties care­fully, and that some de­lay is un­avoid­able.

“It’s not prob­lem­atic,” Scott said. “We think trans­parency is crit­i­cal to dis­as­ter re­sponse, and though we would love to have funds re­leased ear­lier, the fact that it al­lows for more ac­count­abil­ity in the in­dus­try, that’s our pref­er­ence.”

White, the for­mer Columbia Uni­ver­sity pro­gram di­rec­tor, isn’t con­vinced. He said com­pa­nies typ­i­cally check out char­i­ties be­fore an­nounc­ing pledges. Al­though char­i­ta­ble groups are loath to com­plain pub­licly when donors are slow to de­liver on pledges, it’s still a prob­lem, he said.

“They’re not mak­ing head­lines by ac­cus­ing cor­po­ra­tions of any­thing. But by the same to­ken, the re­al­ity is, in a dis­as­ter sit­u­a­tion time is of the essence,” White said.

“If the par­ents whose house has been blown away or had wa­ter neck­high have to go to a shel­ter for food and wait in line with 4,000 other peo­ple, then we have is­sues — and that’s who’s get­ting hurt.”

“Cor­po­ra­tions are not in the business of be­ing char­i­ta­ble; they’re in the business of pro­mot­ing them­selves. To say they’ve done ‘X’ for the char­ity checks that box, and to do some­thing in fol­low-up is less ur­gent.” Doug White, ad­viser to donors

Jon Shap­ley / Hous­ton Chron­i­cle

Rob “Ga­tor” Col­lett, front, a vol­un­teer leader with Habi­tat for Hu­man­ity, hangs a door with the help of Dustin Maples, left, and Brian Thomp­kins in Hous­ton. Habi­tat for Hu­man­ity is one of the three char­i­ties that hasn’t re­ceived do­na­tions pledged by Google.

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