A Winnipeg woman who donated to a fundraising campaign for a food bank was angry when she learned the person making the pitch was working for a private company, not the charity.
A CBC I-Team investigation found the marketing firm used the names of three Winnipeg charities to raise money, even though those charities had no fundraising agreement with the company.
For Marika Olynyk, the story began last November when she was in a Food Fare store on Portage Avenue.
“I was approached by a guy standing at a table saying he was doing fundraising for Winnipeg Harvest,” Olynyk said. “He made it clear: 'Would you like to donate to Winnipeg Harvest'?”
“The idea was you donate a certain amount and they take that toy of whatever amount you donated and put it in the bin which he said was going to a toy drive for Winnipeg Harvest. I gave $10 and he put one of the toys in the bin and then he gave me a receipt.”
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Olynyk said when she later thought more about the transaction, she became concerned because the receipt the man gave her didn’t have Winnipeg Harvest’s name on it. Instead, it said Momentum Marketing, the name of a company with an office on Keewatin Street.
“I had no evidence I'd actually donated to Winnipeg Harvest,” she said, adding the man did not tell her he was working for a private company.
“I was pretty mad,” Olynyk said.
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Wondering where her money was going, Olynyk contacted the food bank who said they had no formal agreement with the firm and said they didn’t know the company was fundraising in their name.
Kate Brenner, Winnipeg Harvest’s director of development, said although her charity does more than 600 fundraising partnership events a year, they chose not to sign on with Momentum Marketing.
“We checked with the (grocery store) to see if we'd been misrepresented and surely enough we had,” she said. “They were using our brand basically to make themselves more acceptable.”
Brenner told the company to “cease and desist” and stop using Harvest’s name, but that didn’t stop someone from the company from dropping off a donation cheque to the food bank.
Brenner said she returned the cheque — something she’d never done before.
“We felt very strongly that because we had no affiliation with this organization and they were actually soliciting these funds without our approval, that we could not accept this,” she said.
“I've been a fundraiser for 25 years and this is the first time I've had this experience."
Momentum Marketing refused to do an interview, but in a statement sent to CBC company spokesperson Brandon Farr blamed a miscommunication with the charity for the situation.
“We apologized for the confusion and are disappointed that we will not be given the opportunity to support the important work of Winnipeg Harvest,” Farr said.
Former employees of Momentum told CBC News they make sizable commissions on the campaigns.
While it’s not illegal for private companies to fundraise on a charity’s behalf, experts say the charities need to have formal agreements in place and tightly control the message of anyone working on their behalf.
“I would be generally very cautious when I see people out there raising money for a charity,” said Mark Blumberg, a Toronto lawyer who works primarily with registered charities.
“Charities are best to avoid these scenarios,” Blumberg said about the practice of giving private salespeople commissions. “It really incentivizes some practices that aren’t for the benefit of the charity sector.”
'Write a cheque directly to the charity and that way you know how much of your money is going to the charity.' - Mark Blumberg
CBC News has found two other charities in Winnipeg that did not enter into fundraising agreements with Momentum Marketing, and later learned the company used the names of those charities in their publicity.
The marketing company proposed a fundraising toy drive last fall for Macdonald Youth Services (MYS), a charity that provides supportive care for youth and their families. But MYS told Momentum it didn’t want to proceed.
MYS spokesperson Shari Loewen said although they later accepted a toy donation from someone connected to Momentum, MYS didn’t have a fundraising relationship with Momentum and did not authorize the firm to use their name.
Momentum Marketing then posted a photo of the toy donation on their Facebook page last December.
Loewen said the charity asked Momentum Marketing to remove the photo from the Facebook page, which it did.
The Salvation Army said a donor contacted its organization last fall to say that someone from Momentum Marketing was telling people outside a grocery store he was raising money for the Salvation Army through a toy drive.
“It came as a surprise that we got the email that somebody had been soliciting donations on our behalf without our knowledge,” said the Salvation Army’s spokesman Brenden Roemich.
The Salvation Army then contacted Momentum Marketing.
“The company said they would cease and desist, that absolutely it was a mistake that there was any connection made between the Salvation Army and the company — and that they would absolutely make sure that wasn't going to happen anymore,” said Roemich.
In its statement to CBC , Momentum agreed it does not have an official relationship with Salvation Army, but said it proudly donated hundreds of toys to them anyway. And while Roemich said it was nice to get the toys, Salvation Army doesn’t want fundraising campaigns happening without approval.
From Toronto, Blumberg said there are better ways for donors to ensure their whole donation is getting to the charity.
“Write a cheque directly to the charity and that way you know how much of your money is going to the charity,” Blumberg said.