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Wishful Giving Goes Down the Well

   Sep 01, 1999

Whoops! The professional telemarketing solicitor had it reversed. The solicitor told potential donors that 80% or more of their donation would be used for granting the wishes of terminally ill children when in actuality the solicitors–-not the children–-got the 80%.

This was no honest mistake, according to the Attorney General of Minnesota, who has charged Wishing Well Foundation USA, Inc. of Metairie, Louisiana and its hired fundraiser, Gecko Communications, Inc. of Iowa and Missouri with charities fraud in a lawsuit that seeks to stop such practices. Wishing Well, whose purpose is to grant wishes to children with life threatening illnesses, took in $3.5 million in 1996 and 1997 yet only spent $45,214, or 1% of these contributions, on granting wishes, according to the Minnesota A.G.

The Minnesota A.G. alleged that donors were given the false impression that Wishing Well, which started in 1995 and began fundraising in Minnesota in October 1998, was a well-known local charity. Donors were told to send checks to “St. Cloud Donor Response Center,” which was nothing more than a private mailbox. Solicitors did not inform potential donors that Wishing Well Foundation USA did not have an office in St. Cloud or in Minnesota at all, and was actually located in Metairie, Louisiana. The A.G. also alleged that telephone solicitors neglected to tell potential donors their company’s name and disclose that they worked for a professional fundraising company, a direct violation of Minnesota law.

Wishing Well’s lawyer, Matthew Brown, told AIP that the organization no longer relies on professional fundraisers and that they are pursuing grants and looking to their local community for support. In the meantime, the lawsuit has asked “the court to stop the defendants from engaging in fraud, order them to comply with Minnesota law and award civil penalties, investigative costs and attorney’s fees.”