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OnePulse Donors Have Little Chance Of Being Refunded: Watchdog


OnePulse Donors Have Little Chance Of Being Refunded: Watchdog

Just two weeks after the onePulse Foundation Board of Directors voted to dissolve the nonprofit organization, the head of a charity watchdog organization says donors stand little chance of ever seeing their donations reimbursed.

After spending seven-and-a-half years working to create a memorial honoring the 49 people killed in the Pulse Nightclub shooting on June 12, 2016, the onePulse Foundation never broke ground on the project.

“To see this money essentially wasted and these promises not fulfilled – it’s a real tragedy,” said Laurie Styron, CEO of CharityWatch, a charity watchdog organization based in Chicago.

Styron told News 6 it is unlikely that donors who wrote a $20 or $100 check will see any refunds as a result of the organization dissolving.

“When it comes to small individual donations – generally speaking, people are out of luck,” she said. “There are a lot of rules and laws in place that dictate that charities have pretty narrow choices when it comes to how to distribute restricted funds or unrestricted funds, even when they’re a nonprofit organization.”

A restricted fund is a donation made for a specific program or budget item, like the memorial project. An unrestricted fund is a donation made to the organization with no note detailing a specific program.

“A lot of times that money is long gone,” Styron said. “It’s been spent on other things, whether it’s other programs or on overhead. In most cases, charities have pretty wide latitude to spend the contributions they receive as long as it’s for some charitable purpose, or at least related to the mission.”

After examining onePulse’s tax returns and audits, Styron concluded that most of the organization’s assets were in land, buildings, and equipment – not cash.

She said when a nonprofit organization dissolves, it needs to keep spending the cash that it has on paying staff, paying for accounting and legal services, until everything is settled, and they officially shut their doors for good. A process that could take months.

OnePulse had already returned the property it acquired from Orange County to use for its museum project, and the property that houses the nightclub was owned by ousted foundation founder and nightclub owner Barbara Poma.

Poma sold it to the City of Orlando in October for $2 million.

“It’s unlikely that there would be a lot of money left over to refund those smaller donations to the general public, once all of the fees related to winding down the organization are incurred,” she said. “I’ve been doing watchdog work for about 20 years now, and unfortunately, this is not a rare occurrence.”

“I would really encourage the people operating the organization today, the ones that are responsible for, for dissolving it, to be as transparent as they possibly can, with who’s going to get the assets with their intentions, if they will be refunding many donations,” Styron said.

The foundation’s spokesman told News 6: “Last week the foundation hired legal counsel who is reviewing the appropriate steps needed to carry out the board’s decision and comply with applicable Florida Statutes. The answers to your questions will be part of that process and will be shared at the appropriate time.”

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