Calgary Flames Foundation disputes claims made by charity watchdog about donation destinations

The Calgary Flames Foundation is refuting claims it doesn't give enough of the money it raises back to the community. Global News

The Calgary Flames Foundation is defending its fundraising practices after a report from Charity Intelligence urged donors to separate their fandom from the desire to give before taking out their wallets.

The report from Charity Intelligence stacks the Calgary Flames Foundation against seven other professional sport team charities: Canucks for Kids Fund, Ottawa Senators Foundation, Montreal Canadians Children’s Foundation, True North Youth Foundation (Winnipeg Jets), Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation, Jays Care Foundation and the MLSE Foundation which represents the Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors and the Toronto Football Club.

The report looked at four considerations for each of the charities examined: financial transparency, donor accountability, whether it’s a rich or poor charity, as well as cents per dollar given to causes. It said very little of the money raised by the Flames Foundation is actually given back to the community.

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While the Foundation got an OK score when it comes to accountability and transparency, Charity Intelligence described it as a “puck hog” when it comes to the cents per dollar the non-profit gives as donations.

“With the Calgary Flames, they’re bringing in more money than they’ve been able to distribute out,” said managing director Kate Bahen. “So right now they have $7.8 million in the bank and they only hand out — it was $1.8 million in charity work. So that’s a puck hog.”

That report suggests the overhead sitting in a reserve fund means the Flames Foundation has enough money for about four years’ worth of donations and grants.

The Calgary Flames Foundation looks at the roughly $7.7 million reserve fund from a different vantage point, though.

“We use that for a couple reasons,” said Calgary Sport and Entertainment Corporation president John Bean.

“One is to make sure that any commitments we do make going forward, we don’t get out over our skis and make commitments we can’t fulfil. And we also use it to look for the next opportunity that we want to invest in something in southern Alberta.”

According to the report, for every dollar the Flames Foundation raised in 2017, only 30 cents was given out — the lowest among the eight professional sport charities.

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By comparison, the report says the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation gave more than 60 cents of every dollar raised and the MLSE Foundation gave 79 cents. The Canadian average for cents to the cause is 75, according to Charity Intelligence.

Bean said the Foundation is “not quite sure where that’s coming from,” insisting the Foundation doles out a significant amount more each year.

“We raised $4 million [in 2017], we have 500,000 in expenses, that leaves us with 3.5 million,” he said. “So our math says we’ve got about 88 cents on every dollar available to put into the communities of southern Alberta.”

He said that of the $3.5 million left, about $2.2 million to $2.3 million was given to charities, with the rest going to the reserve fund.

Charity Intelligence also took issue with how the Foundation raises its funds. Most of the money raised by the Foundation comes through 50/50 draws at Calgary Flames hockey games, with much of the rest coming from special events, like the charity golf and poker tournaments.

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The report shows that while special events brought in just under $1.1 million in 2017, the costs of those events were about $959,000.

Bahen said people need to be wary when considering whether participating in an event like a charity golf game will benefit their community.

“That’s wonderful for the people who pay to play with their favourite player, but it isn’t like a charity fundraiser, it’s more about a donor experience and they’re very expensive,” she said.

Watch from Sept. 2016: The Calgary Flames teed up Thursday for one of the foundation’s biggest fundraising events of the year. Deb Matejicka reports.

Click to play video: '2018 Calgary Flames Celebrity Charity Golf Classic giving in full swing'
2018 Calgary Flames Celebrity Charity Golf Classic giving in full swing

Bean defended the golf and poker events, saying the Foundation doesn’t get focused on the costs, rather drawing people to events they enjoy for more than just the experience.

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“People choose how to spend their time, and we like to think that we combine a little bit of charitable fundraising with just a great fan experience,” he said.

“Of course, golf tournaments and poker tournaments come with some costs, there’s no doubt about that and one can get pretty distracted by that. The bigger distraction seems to be that if you do a 50/50 program, my gosh, 50 cents of every dollar goes towards raising the dollar for 50/50.”

When asked about the Charity Intelligence report itself, Bean said: “I don’t make anything of it.”

“I know what our numbers are, I know what we report to Canada Revenue Agency, and we’re really confirmable with the numbers that we’ve produced,” he said.

The Calgary Flames Foundation said it has three pillars that determine how it distributes its funds: health and wellness programs, grassroots and amateur sports, as well as education programs.

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