While Buffalo Bills safety, Damar Hamlin, was receiving medical attention and fighting for his life after suffering cardiac arrest and collapsing on the field, millions of dollars in donations were pouring into a 2-year-old GoFundMe account Hamlin had started in college. The original goal of that campaign at the time was to raise a modest $2,500 for Hamlin’s “Chasing M’s Foundation Community Toy Drive.”
As a horrified national audience witnessed Hamlin’s life-threatening ordeal unfold in real-time, many were inspired to flock to the crowdfunding campaign to make donations. In a few short days this campaign had collected donations totaling to more than $8.7 million. The balance about a month later reflects just over $9 million in donations.
The problem? “None of the donations are tax deductible,” according to reporting by investigative journalist Jason Wolf forThe Arizona Republic. The February 8th, 2023 article cites Andrew Morton as the source of this information—a partner at Handler Thayer, LLP, who chairs the firm’s sports and entertainment philanthropy group and is legal counsel for The Giving Back Fund, which now serves as the fiscal sponsor for The Chasing M’s Foundation.
CharityWatch had reached out to the Chasing M’s Foundation’s fiscal sponsor, the Giving Back Fund, weeks earlier on January 13th, 2023 with questions about the Foundation’s tax-exempt status with the IRS, its compliance with state solicitation regulations, and the composition of its board of directors. We also asked the organization to confirm that its crowdfunding campaigns on GoFundMe and GiveLively are legitimately associated with the Foundation and asked if there were any other online fundraisers run by an individual associated with the Chasing M’s Foundation that would benefit a private individual.
The Giving Back Fund did not respond to our questions but did pass on our inquiry to representatives of Damar Hamlin’s family, who reached out to CharityWatch on January 20th, 2023. Spokesperson, Jordan Rooney, did not provide answers to CharityWatch’s questions and instead communicated the following via email:
“Damar and the Hamlin family are incredibly grateful for the sudden, surprising outpouring of support that has been exhibited by donors around the world. Despite being out of the hospital, Damar faces a lengthy recovery and the family remains focused on his health. In the days to come, they will share details regarding plans to support the aspirations of youth through the generosity of so many.”
CharityWatch corresponded via email with representatives of the family between January 20th, 2023 and February 7th, 2023, making further attempts to obtain answers to our specific questions. On February 7th, 2023, a representative of the family communicated to CharityWatch via email that “Damar and the Hamlin family are incredibly grateful for the sudden, surprising outpouring of support that has been exhibited by donors around the world. At this time, The Giving Back Fund is the fiscal sponsor of The Chasing M’s Foundation Charitable Fund, securing the tax-exempt status for donations. We are working to update the articles of organization for solicitation in Pennsylvania as well as file a Form 1023 with the IRS with the intention of obtaining 501(c)3 public charity status within the next few weeks. We will share information about how the funds are used.”
The email did not explicitly address the status of the donations made to various crowdfunding campaigns prior to The Giving Back Fund being secured as the Foundation’s fiscal sponsor. According to The Arizona Republic, “the GoFundMe” [created by Hamlin years before his collapse on the field] “was tied to Chasing Millions, LLC, which houses his for-profit clothing brand,” and not to the Foundation directly.
As reported by The Arizona Republic, “’Nobody made a charitable contribution’ Morton said, ‘despite the fact that it said Chasing M’s Foundation, despite the fact that GoFundMe says ‘donate.’…People who gave $10 or $20, no big deal. But people who gave tens of thousands of dollars. And I promise you, the people who gave tens of thousands of dollars did not consider that it might not be charitable.’”
As previously reported by CharityWatch, a legal entity by the name of Chasing Millions, LLC is registered with the Pennsylvania Department of State as an active “Domestic Limited Liability Company” (LLC) with an initial filing date of 08/09/2022. This legal entity, not being a registered 501(c)(3) public charity with the IRS, is not eligible to offer tax-deductibility on the money people give to it.
The Giving Back Fund “has yet to collect the money from the GoFundMe as the parties work through the issue,” according to The Arizona Republic.
Given the surrounding circumstances—that the GoFundMe campaign was launched years ago with a $2,500 goal; that the millions subsequently raised through that campaign appear to be a spontaneous response to a tragic event; and that the LLC, according to The Arizona Republic article, has not withdrawn funds from the GoFundMe account—it does not appear that there was any ill intent on the part of those operating that fundraising campaign. It would have been nearly impossible for the athlete, his family, or business associates to predict such a large-scale conundrum. That said, it should serve as a cautionary tale for celebrity athletes that their fame, fortune, and misfortune, alike, can interact with their charitable efforts in unpredictable ways. It’s most often much more effective, and far less risky, for an athlete to leverage their fame to amplify the programs and messaging of an existing charity than it is to start up one of their own.
Watch CharityWatch Executive Director, Laurie Styron’s interview with investigative sports journalist, Jason Wolf, as part of his 6-month investigation into the charities of Walter Payton Man of the Year Award winners and other NFL players.
For those still wanting to donate, you may use these official channels, as communicated to CharityWatch on February 7th, 2023, by a representative of Damar Hamlin’s family:
● TEXT-TO-DONATE: Text “GIVEFOR3” to 44-321
● ON-LINE: The Chasing M's Foundation Charitable Fund (givelively.org)
● BY MAIL: The Chasing M’s Foundation Charitable Fund
℅ The Giving Back Fund
5101 Santa Monica Blvd - Suite 8, PMB 137
Los Angeles, CA 90029
According to a representative of the family:
“Damar and his family are working with a trusted group of advisors who have volunteered their time to help define the mission, vision, and structure that Damar envisions for the charity. Entrusted with the generosity of so many in an instant, Damar and his family are looking at the long- term to bring healing, caring and goodness to others. That’s their commitment. The family will be forever humbled by and grateful for the support they continue to receive and look forward to returning that generosity.”