HOLIDAY, Fla. -- It's a small charity outside Tampa with a compassionate name, The Kids Wish Network, that raised more than $20 million in 2011 to help dying children.
So you'd think they would be anxious to speak with WINK News about their charity.
But when WINK News Call For Action arrived, we were told no one would be able to speak with us. Perhaps, that's because we wanted to know why they donate only pennies on the dollar to the kids.
Kids Wish referred us to their website, where you'll find testimonials from the parents of sick kids. But you'll also find their IRS disclosures, called 990s.
The most recent, from 2011, shows the charity brought in more than $22 million in cash donations but gave less than $240,000 to sick kids. That's less than two cents of every dollar.
WINK News Call For Action went through their tax forms from the last ten years and found out of the $127 million donated, only $3.2 million went to the kids. During the same time the charity has given more than $109 million to the for-profit companies that bring in the donations.
Earlier this year, the Center for Investigative Reporting and the Tampa Bay Times rated Kids Wish Network as the worst charity in America.
On its website, Kids Wish says when you include the in-kind donations, things they donate that aren't money, then they actually donate 56% to the kids. But our investigation uncovered, that to get that number, Kids Wish is including the cash value of four million dollars worth of toys and gifts they donated in 2011. Trouble is, those toys and gifts were donated to Kids Wish first, and cost them nothing.
How does a charity like this exist?
There are no laws requiring charities to spend a certain percentage on the cause. Though, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam says he hopes to change that.
"We spend a lot of time making sure that we're maximizing every dollar that we get," said Al Brislain, the President and CEO of the Harry Chapin Food Bank.
The Fort Myers based charity was recently named as on of the top 11 charities in the country for accountability and transparency by the watchdog group Charity Navigator.
96 cents of every dollar donated to the Harry Chapin Food Bank is used to feed the hungry in Southwest Florida.
"We're stewards of the money that people give to us. And they have to trust that we're gonna use it in the right way. And we think we do," Brislain said.
So how do you know where your money is going?
"You always want to do your due diligence," said Beth Schell of the Lee County Sheriff's Office Fraud Department.
"There are some websites you can go to."
Sites like Charity Navigator or Guidestar.org are good places to start. You can also check with the Better Business Bureau or the Florida Gift Giver's Guide.
Experts also recommend you find charities that are transparent about their finances.
"There's the old Mike Wallace test, whatever you do you should be able to answer in front of a camera why you did it," Brislain said.
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services says it is investigating the Kids Wish Network.