Poppy under pressure: Where is the money going?

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Poppy under pressure: Where is the money going?
WATCH: The Calgary Poppy Fund has received a failing grade from a Toronto-based charity watchdog. Tracy Nagai takes a look at how Calgarians’ donations were used to help veterans – Jan 24, 2018

Questions are being raised about the Calgary Poppy Fund‘s so-called lack of transparency due to a failing grade from a Toronto-based charity watchdog.

In its latest report filed in November 2017,  Charity Intelligence gave the Calgary Poppy Fund an F.

“For every dollar you donate at Calgary Poppy Fund, 83 cents goes to the cause,” Charity Intelligence managing director Kate Bahen said. “But the followup question is at the end of the day, ‘What did my dollar do?’ Those 83 cents – what happened with them and how did it help veterans?”

Bahen said organizations’ ratings are partially based on how much information is made available to the public.

“When you go to the website and you’re looking for basic information; how many veterans did it help last year? What are its results? There wasn’t enough information that you get a good accountability grade.”

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According to the Calgary Poppy Fund’s 2016 tax return, available to the public on the Canada Revenue website, the charity raised more than $2 million in donations.

“The Calgary Poppy Fund came onto our radar because it’s the second-largest donor-funded veterans charity in Canada,” Bahen said.

In total, 16 donees are listed in the 2016 return, among them:

Royal Canadian Legion Provincial Command – $500,000

Hospice Calgary – $105,000

Calgary Health Trust – $164,500

YWCA of Calgary – $20,000

Linkages Society of Alberta – $21,000

Although all the charities listed as having received funds are well known, Bahen said it isn’t enough.

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“It went to the hospice, it went to Calgary Health, but how much of it went to help veterans?”

Global News reached out to the organizations listed above.

Royal Canadian Legion Alberta-NWT Command president Chris Strong said $140,000 was used to directly support veterans and the rest of the money was used to offset the costs of running the Alberta service bureau, which helped roughly 800 veterans that year.

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Calgary Health Trust said the money it received went to the Operational Stress Injury Clinic in Calgary which treats around 250 veterans annually.

“This money supported a variety of therapies for veterans, of which a significant portion went towards equipment for some really impactful treatments,” spokesperson Valerie Ball said.

However, while the other organizations listed were able to outline how the money was used, they couldn’t provide specific numbers on exactly how many veterans were helped.

“Some of our clients, in our transitional housing particularly, have served in the Canadian Forces so the dollars went into that program,” Carla Link with YWCA wrote in an email. “It is not a question we ask on intake forms, so there’s no way to track this empirically.”

A similar response also came from Hospice Calgary.

“We were able to make improvements to our facilities and programs,” Jean Symborski wrote in an email. “Unfortunately, we can’t be specific with numbers as individuals using our programs do not all self-identify as veterans.”

Linkages Society of Alberta said a portion of the money went to support Intergenerational Day, which is observed annually on June 1 and is supposed to raise awareness about the connections different generations share.

Linkages said a total of 150 veterans and seniors were helped through its programs, but it did not know the exact number of veterans.

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Those who serve our country believe accountability and transparency are key when it comes to Calgarians’ donations.

“In today’s economy there is a very difficult challenge for organizations that rely on donations,” Canadian Armed Forces member Mike ter Kuile said. “The only way they’re going to get that support is clear transparency on where the money is going to.”

“It’s not just the Calgary Poppy Fund that’s dispersing this money and having the visibility on that,” Col. (Ret.) Charles Hamel said.  “But also the people receiving those funds, to make sure they go to the veterans.”

John Rathwell took over the position as general manager of the Calgary Poppy Fund in October and said he’s confident the money is going where it’s needed most.

“It is stressed that no money leaves here unless it is for veteran programs,” Rathwell said. “And I ask for proof of how many veterans that will assist.”

Rathwell added that information will be made available to the public once the Calgary Poppy Fund’s website is updated, and said his door is always open to answer questions.

“Our website has a lot to be desired. One of the mandates, me being new here, is I want to make that more visible.”

While there’s criticism, there are charity watchdogs that stand behind the Calgary Poppy Fund and believe it is doing everything right.

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“Does it matter if the one penny gets to that one individual?” Gena Rotstein with Karma & Cents questioned. “Unless we’re going to pay for those charities to cover the overheard costs of managing that minute reporting process, I’m not really sure if that’s going to tell us what we want to know.”

“I think the bigger question is, ‘What is it going to cost society to not help these veterans?’”

Some financial experts are also questioning Charity Intelligence’s rating methodology.

“I liken it to Yelp or to other self-grading systems,” director of Canadian Tax Advisory Kim Moody said. “Everybody has an opinion. Whether their opinion is accurate or not…it’s their opinion.”

But for Bahen, the decision is simple.

“When it comes to the poppy box, knowing what I know now, I don’t feel guilty about just dropping a loonie off.”


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