A donor has filed a federal class-action lawsuit alleging that he was duped into giving money to one of the worst charities in the country.

Children’s Wish Foundation International, based in Georgia, is No. 3 on a list of the nation’s 50 worst charities created by the Tampa Bay Times and The Center for Investigative Reporting. The rankings are based on the amount of money charities spend on outside fundraisers.

The donor, Jesse Unruh of Los Angeles County, claims the charity misled him into thinking that most of his donation would be used to directly aid children in need, according to the complaint.

Officials with the charity did not respond to requests for comment.

Over the past decade, for-profit solicitors have raised $96.8 million for the charity and kept about 66 percent. It has spent less than 11 percent of the money raised on direct cash aid, records show.

Class-action cases brought by donors are extremely rare.

“It’s generally accepted that donors do not have standing to enforce a charitable gift; only state attorneys general have that power,” said Hugh Jones, the chief charity regulator in Hawaii. “There are a couple of courts that have recognized such standing due to special circumstances, but they are the exception, not the rule.”

The Times/CIR series has been a topic of conversation at this year’s conference of state charity regulators. It was the first item mentioned in the “Hot Topics in the Nonprofit Sector” panel. Panelists said the series had sparked a conversation about what regulators and the sector could do to improve oversight.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Kendall Taggart is a former data reporter at The Center for Investigative Reporting. Her recent project, America's Worst Charities, exposed systemic weaknesses in state and federal oversight of nonprofits. The series, produced in collaboration with the Tampa Bay Times, won the Barlett & Steele Award gold prize. Kendall also was part of the reporting team that uncovered flaws in the way school regulators in California inspect and certify public schools to ensure they are seismically safe. That series, On Shaky Ground, won the public service award from Scripps Howard and two awards from Investigative Reporters & Editors. Kendall is a Massachusetts native and graduate of Reed College. She has lived and worked in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and Trujillo, Peru.