Manitoba Burn Fund critical of fundraising middleman on funeral home websites

The chairperson of the Manitoba Firefighters Burn Fund is warning donors not to use the online donation page on funeral home websites, but make donations directly to their organization instead through cheques or by phone.

My Tribute Gift Foundation takes 8% cut on every donation transaction, says Martin Johnson

The Winnipeg-based Firefighters Burn Fund is rolling out these fire safety trailers, which will go into service this week. (Submitted by Martin Johnson)

The chairperson of the Manitoba Firefighters Burn Fund is warning donors not to use the online donation page on funeral home websites, but make donations directly to their organization instead through cheques or by phone.

A number of Winnipeg funeral homes, including Cropo Funeral Chapel and Neil Bardal Funeral Centre, use a third-party service called My Tribute Gift Foundation to facilitate online donations to registered charities.

Funeral home websites offer mourners the ease of donating online, but Manitoba's Firefighters Burn Fund says the third-party provider that facilitates the transaction takes a cut out of each donation. (Haydn Watters/CBC)
The service allows mourners to make online payments using credit cards, a function that is not possible on many smaller charity websites, including the Burn Fund's.

But Burn Fund chairperson Martin Johnson says My Tribute Gift Foundation, a registered charity itself with Canada Revenue Agency, takes an eight per cent cut on every transaction and does not make that clear to donors.

Last year, the foundation facilitated transactions amounting to $2,377,228 in online donations to charities. It spent $240,506 on "management and administration," although the charity reports having no employees.

My Tribute Gift Foundation did not return CBC News' calls for comment.

Burn Fund says it wasn't asked for permission

Johnson says he was never told by My Tribute Gift Foundation that it would be fundraising on the charity's behalf. He was alerted to the foundation's activities in early April by the widow of a retired firefighter.

She told Johnson that friends were upset they had not been acknowledged for donations they had made in her husband's name to the Burn Fund.

The Burn Fund is warning donors on Facebook not to use the third-party donation portals on funeral chapel websites, but rather to send donations directly to the organization. (Facebook)
Johnson said normally "when donations come in, we send the widow or the family a list of names of people that have made donations out of respect for their loved one." This allows family to, for instance, send out thank-you notes.

But in the case of this widow, Johnson had no idea who was making the donations in her husband's name. He said he soon learned he had to log onto the My Tribute Gift website to get a list of donors so he could finally tell the widow who to thank. 

Johnson said he's "disappointed" and he's worried that mourners in Winnipeg are likely not aware when they use funeral chapel online donation pages that part of their contribution is going to My Tribute Gift Foundation.

Nearly 100% of direct donations go to programs: Johnson

According to the foundation, this cut covers a five per cent for handling fees and three per cent for card processing fees.

Johnson said credit card companies normally charge around two per cent per transaction.

"We a volunteer organization, we [the Burn Fund] don't have any salaries, we don't pay rent for overhead. One hundred per cent of that donation, minus the service charge, goes directly into the things we support," he said.

A spokesperson for Neil Bardal Funeral Centre told CBC News its website creator, Frontrunner Professional, set up the account with My Tribute Gift to make it easier for mourners to donate online.

The funeral centre said if the online donation function becomes an issue for clients or the community, it will contact Frontrunner and potentially remove My Tribute Gift from its website.

Listen to Marcy Markusa's interview with Martin Johnson on Information Radio on Thursday morning at 6:10 a.m. on CBC Radio One, 89.3 FM in Winnipeg.


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