When you donate to 100 Club, where's your money exactly going?

When you give to the 100 Club, where exactly does your cash go? 13 Undercover teamed up with a watchdog group to find out
November 26, 2013 8:29:36 PM PST
Over 60 years, the 100 Club of Houston has given $77 million to help the families of fallen police and firefighters, buy equipment for law enforcement and pay for scholarships. So when you give to the group, where exactly does your money go? 13 Undercover has done the digging for you to find out.

After four Houston firefighters died this past summer fighting a motel blaze, the 100 Club received $817,000 in donations. Yet despite these fundraising efforts, the families of the four fallen heroes were told they would not receive any of those donations. It's because 100 Club rules only allowed it to give financial aid to widows and children. The fallen were not married and had no kids.

Eventually, public pressure led the 100 Club to change its policies and provide the four families the needed help. However, the publicity hurt the charity's reputation and left some wondering if they should donate in the future.

To help you know exactly how the 100 Clubs spends your donations, 13 Undercover reviewed the 100 Club's financial records along with the help of a nationally known charity watchdog to see how it stacks up to other similar charities.

"There are a few things here that concern us," said Ken Berger with Charity Navigator.

For starters, Berger says the $300,219 in total compensation paid in 2012 to executive director Rick Hartley is higher than most for that position at comparable non-profits.

"We find that in the Houston area, for mid- to large-size non-profits, the average CEO salary is $150,000 -- less than half of what is being made by the head of the 100 Club," Berger said.

"We think we have the best guy," said Ross Margraves, one of the Club's directors.

Margraves says Hartley's paycheck is based on his successful leadership of the 30,000-member organization, and they don't want him leaving for a private sector job.

"We may be on the high end of the scale, but we think Rick Hartley is worth every nickel of it," Margraves said.

But the biggest issue for Charity Navigator is the fact the 100 Club is sitting on a mountain of cash -- $23 million, which would allow it to operate for seven years without another donation at its current spending level.

"That's an extraordinary amount of money to be put into reserve. And if there's a crisis or a disaster, God forbid, that's the time that you raise the money for that disaster," Berger said.

"We want to make sure that we're prepared to deliver if there is unfortunately a catastrophic event," Margraves said.

The 100 Club says $18 million is invested for use later on, and $5 million are already committed to help families like Rene Dennis'.

"They are awesome," Dennis said.

Her husband, Harris County Deputy Joseph Dennis, was shot and killed during a routine traffic stop in 2001. That's when she got a visit from members of the 100 Club. They handed her a check for $10,000, paid her outstanding bills and promised to pay for her kids' college educations.

"I am so thankful for the 100 Club," Dennis said.

Despite Charity Navigator's criticisms, Houston's Better Business Bureau says the 100 Club is well within its guidelines, with only 28 percent of revenue spent on fundraising and administration in its most recent financial report.

And here's something else you should know: Make a donation to the Survivors Fund and your money only goes to families of fallen police and firefighters, and heroes with catastrophic injuries. But pay to become a member so you can get a 100 Club sticker, then your money goes to pay expenses. Your membership money also will be used to buy law enforcement needed equipment.

Find Brian on Facebook at ABC13BrianCollister or on Twitter at @BrianCollister

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