In the course of my continuing New To Seattle exploration of the shores along Puget Sound, I have come across yet another local charity whose operations raise a few questions.
The name is Eagle’s Nest Foundation. It’s headquartered in the Seattle suburb of Mukilteo, where folks catch the ferry to Whidbey Island, the state’s largest. The charity is run by Dayoung and Jeanne Kimn, described as veteran aid workers.
The charity says on its Web site that it “receives medical supplies as donations” to send to others nations “most in need.” Then there’s this grand claim: “Since it’s [sic] inception in 2003, Eagle’s Nest Foundation has shipped over $80 million in medical supplies to more than 25 countries around the globe.”
Sound terrific, doesn’t it? But there’s a little problem with this statement. The six years of Eagle’s Nest public tax returns that I can find (2006 to 2011) show that the charity spent a total of $453,000 on charitable purposes, none of that identified as donated goods given away. That’s a whole lot less than $80 million. And I should point out that statements on Web sites are not made under oath, while those on tax returns are.
While Eagle’s Nest is federally registered with the Internal Revenue Service as tax-exempt public charity–meaning it can offer tax deductions to donors–it is not registered with charity regulators in Washington State. Moreover, Eagle’s Nest seems to have ties with a Canadian relief agency, Universal Aide Society, that lost its tax-exempt status after an audit showed, among other things, gross overvaluation of donated goods.
What does Eagle’s Nest have to say about this? Beats me. No one there will talk or return messages.
I encountered Eagle’s Nest while researching a long story that went up today on Forbes.com about a hot controversy in the Serbian community over a shipment of medical supplies last year from Seattle to the Serb town of Gracanica in Kosovo, a region overwhelmingly populated by rival ethnic Albanians. The project was organized by 28.Jun, a young, nationalistic Serbian student group based in North America and named for the date of a Serb battlefield defeat in the year 1389. 28.Jun raised funds from fellow Serbs, later proclaiming far and wide that the shipment was worth $1.5 million. But another Serb group dealing in humanitarian aid, Direct Effect USA, and its founder, Milos Supica, said the value was only $225,000 and not only that, the goods went to Albanians! (As you might suspect, 28.Jun really disputes this incendiary latter charge.)
Being a fair sort, I arranged for a U.S. charity I know that specializes in international relief to value what seems to be the shipment’s inventory list upon arrival in Kosovo. Its opinion: about $500,000, or only one-third of the shouted-from-the-rooftops $1.5 million.
28.Jun said it got the $1.5 million valuation from Eagle’s Nest, which contributed goods to the shipment and loaded the shipping container at its small garage facility in Mukilteo. In recent weeks, 28.Jun says that it has asked Eagle’s Nest for proof of the valuation, such as- an original shipping list with values for each entry that then could be checked against industry price lists. So far, no such paperwork has surfaced, but 28.Jun is still sticking with the number.
Overvaluation of gift-in-kind, or GIK, as donated goods are called, is a national problem now drawing the attention of charity regulators everywhere. It’s a problem because overvaluation can make charities look bigger and more financial efficient to would-be cash donors than they really are.
As a journalist, I have long written about this issue. The Seattle area is something of a hothouse. Crista Ministries, in the Seattle suburb of Shoreline, wildly overvalued deworming medicine for some years and apparently still does. So did World Vision in Federal Way and Pilgrim Africa in Seattle.
So to me, a big question now is whether Eagle’s Nest is more a hornet’s nest.
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