The Foundation for Vehicle Donations
Its “Wheels for Wishes” advertisements that reference “Make-A-Wish” have received tens of thousands of car donations; nevertheless, it appears that a significant number of these “wheels” are used for commercial purposes rather than to grant wishes granted by humanitarian organisations. The Car Donation Foundation (CDF), which is the largest car donation charity in the United States, is the organisation that publicly utilises the moniker “Wheels for Wishes” to seek vehicle contributions around the United States for the benefit of local chapters of the Make-A-Wish Foundation (MAW) (MAW).
After the donated vehicles have been sold or scrapped, the CDF gives the promotional-partner MAW chapters the proceeds from the sale or scrapping of the vehicles. During the period of 2011-2014, it was determined that only roughly 20 percent of CDF’s earnings was actually donated to charitable organisations. In addition, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) in the state of Minnesota asserts that the charitable organisation CDF, which has its headquarters in the state of Minnesota, is not transparent, leads donors in the wrong direction, and has an excessively close relationship with two of its for-profit vendors.
According to a Compliance Report that was released by the OAG in October 2015, Car Donation Foundation mixes the names of Wheels for Wishes and Make-A-Wish in its advertisements and solicitations, which results in donor confusion in the state of Minnesota. When people donate their automobiles, they have the right to know who they are contributing to and where the money is going, according to a statement made by the Attorney General of Minnesota that was published in an article in the Star Tribune about the controversy involving the CDF.
The OAG report cites CDF’s use of the title “Make-A-Wish Car Donation” in paid Internet ads and notes that while the “Make-A-Wish” name or logo is prominently featured in Wheels for Wishes ads, the ads do not mention CDF or its professional fundraising company (at least prior to June 2015, when CDF altered some of its newspaper ads to include a footnote reference to CDF as the OAG’s investigation was still ongoing). The OAG report In the OAG Report, many examples are provided that describe cases of specific individuals who contributed vehicles to CDF under the false belief that they were donating directly to MAW. These individuals were under the impression that they were making a contribution to MAW.
According to the OAG report, even MAW-Minnesota and the national office of MAW voiced their concern to CDF about the fact that its advertisements sometimes made it look as if Wheels for Wishes was a programme of MAW rather than an independent charity. This was one of the issues that prompted MAW-Minnesota and the national office of MAW to voice their concern. In the meantime, it would appear that the advertisements for Wheels for Wishes have been quite successful. This is evidenced by the fact that CDF has grown its annual revenue from $14.4 million in 2011 to $37.3 million in 2014, more than doubling the number of vehicles it has sold or scrapped between those years.
Car Donation Foundation’s lack of transparency and the fact that it allows potential donors to be confused by its Wheels for Wishes advertisements is even more regrettable when one considers the fact that two of CDF’s major for-profit vendors are owned and operated by the same two people who founded and currently manage CDF. Co-founders of CDF William Bigley and Randy Heiligman are also 100 percent co-owners of and operators of for-profit businesses Metro Metals Corporation (MM) and National Fundraising Management, Inc. In addition, Bigley and Heiligman co-founded CDF.
MM is responsible for the auctioning and scrapping of the automobiles that have been donated to CDF. In addition, the OAG Report mentions that Heiligman’s wife, who served on the board of directors and as an officer for the CDF in the past, is now executive vice-president of MM, and that Heiligman’s son and daughter, as well as Bigley’s son, are all employed by NFM. Regarding NFM, CDF’s audited financial accounts for 2011 include the following note:
“The Car Donation Foundation was in need of support services in 2011, thus a new management firm was established that year to meet those needs. This new management company is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Car Donation Foundation. In exchange for its services, the Car Donation Foundation pays the new management company administrative fees equal to 15 percent of the net proceeds from auction sales and programme commissions equal to one-half of each location’s net income or loss. According to the OAG investigation, NFM is registered to function as a professional fundraiser for CDF in around 40 states, and CDF is the only customer the company has.
According to the CDF’s yearly tax filings, the charity reported paying NFM and MM a combined total of about $56 million from 2011 to 2014, which represents more than half of the over $108 million in total money the charity collected on donated automobiles during that time period. In comparison, the total direct payments that CDF made to charitable organisations from 2011 to 2014 amounted to just less than $22 million, almost all of which were given to local chapters of Make-A-Wish, and only around 20 percent of its overall earnings.