Saturday, February 18, 2017

Donate for Charity, Inc. is Not a Charity

Recently, I invested $800 worth of critical repair into my 1999 Suburu Outback Legacy, which unfortunately upset a delicate balance deep within its framework. Namely: A small ecosystem of caked mud, dirt and oil that had coagulated around the trunk of rust that was once my filler tube dislodged when the car was hoisted onto the lift for repairs, and left a massive hole in the upper part of the tube which let the gas pour out as soon I filled the tank beyond about half, not to mention the danger of the fumes. This, of course, is not the sort of damage you can blame on your mechanic. Seventeen years of urban goo crystallizing northern Michigan ice and deer poo that has been safeguarding my corrosion is not exactly anything covered under the mechanic’s warranty. 

The mechanic said the repairs would be another $650 – at least. And that was a baseline. So I started carshopping. The dealer didn’t really want my car sans bog, and I was nervous about transporting it or even letting it sit, so I decided to donate it. It hadn’t really much occurred to me to try to sell it on Craigslist. Though I’m not sure I would have wanted to anyway, with the filler tube problem; as it sort of seemed like a lawsuit waiting to happen.

The truth is, I moved rather hastily, too quickly, I think in making this decision. I looked through a few car donation options and landed on a place called St. Louis Effort for AIDS, even over goodwill, just because it seemed more aligned with my political interest, and I like choosing smaller charities than larger programs, like NPR, etc.

When I contacted the organization, however, I did not deal directly with them. The donation number takes you to a hotline with a company called Donation for Charity, Inc (I’ll call them DFC, Inc., hereon). What I didn’t quite understand at the time was that this company is a broker. A for-profit broker, who handles car donations for charities.

Once I signed up for that donation, DFC, Inc. sent me a confirmation email, which said that the towing company would contact me within 24 hours to set up a time to pick up the car. There was no phone interaction beyond my initial inquiry and directions for preparing my car for pickup were rather scant. I did not hear from the towing company, for 24, 36, and then 72 hours and Thanksgiving was around the corner. I called after the day had passed, and was informed that the holidays meant they were behind. I wrote again after several days and pushed them to establish contact for me. I called the following day (so almost a week later) and finally after explaining to the woman that I needed my plates and my car was not in a secure location (on a street, so I couldn’t remove the plates), she finally did something to establish contact with the towing company. I was given cable-repair hours for pickup. The driver, I was told would call somewhere between hours of 8 and noon to pick up my car. Which meant, of course, I had to be ready to get up and drive across town to meet him at my car to retrieve my plates.

The reason I’m writing this, however, is not entirely to complain about their service. Though I do find it interesting that the transaction took so much effort on my part.

My main bone of contention in this transaction comes a few days ago when I received the receipt for my donation. On the receipt, from DFC, Inc., it says the car sold in an “arms-length transaction to unrelated parties.” Finding this language confusing, I called that hotline number to better understand. This is the point at which I finally understood that Donation for Charity, Inc. is a for-profit business.

The rep told me the language on my receipt means my car sold at auction. It sold for a mere $185.00. I also found out after some prying about the proceeds from that auction, that DFC, Inc. collects from every donation a standard $70 administrative AND then takes 30% of the remaining sale. Thirty. Per. Cent. So effectively, I donated my CAR and my chosen charity got $80.50. DFC, on the other hand, got $104.50.

The bidder, incidentally, was the towing company, since many of these towing companies actually scrap and rebuild cars. I really could, it turns out, have done this on my own.

But of course, I didn’t. And there is a tax incentive, I suppose. Assuming I pay taxes this year (that’s a separate writing about this administration.) The receipt is good for a baseline of $500. But that’s only good if it turns out that itemizing would be worthwhile, which it likely won’t be for me, this year, as in most years.

I am writing this note for anyone thinking about donating a car. Double check the broker and find out, up front, how much of the sale they get. It might be better to sell it on craigslist maybe. And then just donate to the charity of your choice.

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