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Mission abandoned, money gone PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 28 June 2017 16:35

What follows is a cautionary tale.
    But it comes with the caveat that its warning does not apply to the vast majority of nonprofit organizations that seek funding for good local causes in Ozaukee County and can be trusted to be true to their mission.
    People in Port Washington who gave money to an organization named the Great Lakes Safe Harbor Preservation Foundation were led to believe their contributions would be spent to “save the Port lighthouse and breakwater.”
    They weren’t.
    None of the money collected by the organization was used to repair the Port Washington breakwater or lighthouse.
    Instead, most of the funds were spent to pay the organization’s expenses and for something called “educational outreach.” Fundraising proceeds that weren’t spent were given to a Sheboygan nonprofit organization devoted to promoting sailing.
    A meticulously reported investigative news story in last week’s Ozaukee Press revealed that the foundation raised $31,133 before dissolving in 2016.
    The Press investigation found that the foundation reported, in a 2014 filing with the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions, spending $3,442 for organization management and $10,874 for unspecified services it provided, leaving it with a balance of $18,296 at the end of the year.
    Mary Jo Joyce of West Bend, president of the foundation, told Ozaukee Press that most of that balance was given to the Sailing Association of Sheboygan (SEAS). The organization had contributed $10,000 to the foundation, the Press learned.
    The Port Washington donors, who wanted to help the cause of rebuilding their city harbor’s failing breakwater, were misled.
    In advertising its organizational meeting in Port Washington in 2014, the foundation stated that its mission was to “save the Port Washington lighthouse and breakwater.”
    To underscore its connection to Port Washington and establish a local presence, the organization appointed a Port resident as its vice president. It solicited donations with “Save the Harbor” buckets in downtown stores and at city events, sold lighthouse necklaces and sought volunteers, including Boy Scouts who sold kites that featured an image of a life ring around the lighthouse to raise money for the organization.
    In an interview with the Press, Joyce characterized the services provided by her organization that were funded by contributions as “educational outreach” to increase awareness of the breakwater’s “structural deficiencies.”
    In explaining the money given to SEAS—$13,409—Joyce said the foundation’s bylaws required that if the foundation were dissolved, unspent fundraising proceeds were to go to an organization of “similar purpose.”
    There is no mention of a mission to support breakwaters or lighthouses on the SEAS website. Rather, the organization’s purpose is to remove barriers to the enjoyment of safe boating on Lake Michigan “created by financial, physical or cognitive needs,” according to the website.
    Leslie Kohler, chairwoman of the SEAS board of directors, blamed criticism of the Safe Harbor Preservation Foundation’s fundraising practices  on “somebody that must have spent $25 for a necklace and wonders where the money went.”
    The small donors disparaged by that comment have as much right as anyone to wonder where the money went, of course, and they should be complaining. Unlike the big contributor SEAS, which is generously supported by the Kohler family foundation, they didn’t get refunds, even though their contributions were not spent for the advertised purpose.
    The Safe Harbor Preservation Foundation could have lived up to its stated reason for existence if it hadn’t abruptly folded after two years. Though the City of Port Washington, through its own efforts in rallying congressional support for emergency repairs by the Corps of Engineers, managed to get most of the north breakwater rebuilt, it is currently facing more than $30,000 in repairs to the lighthouse and a large expenditure for repairs to the south breakwater.
    A check from the foundation to help meet those expenses would have been at least partial validation of what it claimed was its mission.
    One of the unfortunate consequences of misleading contributors is that such practices can poison the fundraising well.
    People who care about the Port Washington harbor, however, can be confident that their contributions to the Lighthouse Preservation Fund established by the City of Port Washington will be spent exclusively on the pierhead lighthouse.
    That fund has no connection whatsoever with the failed, short-lived Great Lakes Safe Harbor Preservation Foundation.

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