"The Wheelchair Recycler's mission is "to provide any means necessary to mobilize those in need. This is accomplished through recycling, refurbishing, and reclaiming used electric power wheelchairs and scooters as well as other durable medical equipment."
Founded in 1998, by David Heim and based in Massachusetts, the organization has to date given away over 500 power chairs and repaired hundreds more. In many cases they've saved hundreds of individuals from being bed-ridden. Most who receive the chairs are on fixed income and lacking adequate insurance.
The organization's long term goal is to set up The Wheelchair Recycler nationwide. In order to do that, their short term goal is to obtain the necessary funding to help support daily operations- such as transportation, office equipment, utilities, and phones.
For more information on The Wheelchair Recycler, please visit their website."
This feature was published March 12, 2009. During NA's hiatus the feature received a comment from a (very helpful) tipster that all was not right with this organization. When the site resumed, I responded with the proper steps one would take if they suspected foul-play at a nonprofit organization:
- Go to the leadership. If the problem is the Executive Director, then speak to someone at the Board of Directors level. If that's an issue? Nonprofits ultimately answer to their state's Attorney General.
But I didn't stop there. Revisiting The Wheelchair Recycler website, there is no list for Board of Directors, nor any other information that would legitimize this organization as a not-for-profit. The site does claim The Wheelchair Recycler is a 501(c)3 with a faulty link to GuideStar in the donations section. Looking up the organization on GuideStar you'll see The Wheelchair Recycler's tax-exempt status has been revoked, for not filing the required 990 Form three years in a row.
So what does this mean? The Wheelchair Recycler is not a non-profit organizations. Your donations are not tax deductible, and no agency is endorsing it. If this business is operating as a for-profit, there is no way to prove it's operating legally.
The 'In the News' section does feature articles from some top news and entertainment organizations; however, when I clicked on the top story from the Nightly News with Brian Williams, The Wheelchair Recycler story had been removed. And so it appears this is an example of an organization that at one time maybe have been operating on the up and up, it is no longer doing so.
I have reached out to The Wheelchair Recycler via email, inquiring about its non-profit status and some other documents nonprofit organizations must make available to the public. I will make available any response I receive.
I had debated simply removing the original post, but ultimately decided that it was important to address this. The Wheelchair Recycler is not the first non-profit organization to be misappropriating funds, or operating outside nonprofit laws, and it unfortunately probably won't be the last. Not to mention all the schemes designed to look like charities designed to take advantage of sympathetic individuals.
And so, I present this as a learning opportunity. Be sure to do your due diligence before donating to an organization.
- Look at their profile on GuideStar
- Look at CharityNavigator
- Look at their documents
Nonprofits have to make public their annual 990s, board of directors and meeting minutes. Typically you would need to request meeting minutes, but they are open to public view. Some organizations produce annual reports or additional materials for transparency.
Sunday begins Foundation Week at Nonprofit Awareness, I strongly encourage you to visit each foundation's website. There you'll find fantastic examples of accountability and transparency. These organizations really exemplify the type of information you should be looking for when considering a donation.