The post office box for the National Children's Leukemia Foundation is inside this UPS Store in West Bloomfield Township. (Neal Rubin)
The National Children's Leukemia Foundation (NCLF) keeps mutating, sort of like a flu virus. Now it has a local address.
I've warned about the NCLF before. It's a cheesy charity operating out of a guy's basement in Brooklyn, N.Y., and it's notorious for playing on sound-alike nonprofits, like the Children's Leukemia Foundation of Michigan.
When it siphons money from the Children's Leukemia Foundation of Michigan -- or CLFM, to its friends -- it's essentially taking money away from sick children and their families in this state. "It's unconscionable," said William Seklar, president of the organization. The CLFM had to move its office to try to disassociate itself from the New York group, but the NCLF doesn't seem to be going away.
In fact, it's put down roots here, sort of.
Brian Westervelt, 42, who works for a company that imports parts and accessories for British cars, reached out this month to tell me he'd been contacted twice by phone solicitors for the NCLF. The first time, he asked the voice from the phone bank to send him some literature about the organization, which never happened. The second time, out of curiosity, he asked where he could send a check.
The address the woman gave him was on Orchard Lake Road in West Bloomfield Township. It's a UPS Store.
The NCLF occupies box No. 322 there. It's one of the larger boxes, 6½ inches high and 11½ inches wide, with a handsome brass door. I knocked on it, but no one answered. Then I called the organization's headquarters in the basement in Brooklyn, but no one called back.
I wanted to know why a New York charity that's been called "despicable" and "bogus" by a service that rates nonprofits would need a Metro Detroit drop box. It turned out Seklar had an answer.
"The only reason I could possibly think of," he said, "is that they want people to think they are the Children's Leukemia Foundation of Michigan."
Difference is in the cold calls
The CLFM never, ever, cold-calls strangers. That's one difference between the two.
A more important difference is that the CLFM devotes at least 80 percent of its budget to providing information, financial help and emotional support to families dealing with life-threatening blood disorders. The NCLF spends most of its money to raise more money.
As of a few years ago, the NCLF was spending 80 percent of its income to pay a six-figure salary to president Steve Shor and hire teams of phone solicitors to bug people at home. Having been roundly criticized for the practice, and having been consistently zinged by the ratings organizations, it now claims to spend 58.5 percent of its income on programs.
That's still a failing mark, and according to senior program analyst Matt Viola of Charity Navigator, some of the alleged 58.5 percent used for programs is still being used to hustle donations. Different slot on the accounting form, same old act.
In an unfortunate coincidence, the CLFM used to be in the same office building as the telemarketing company that makes calls for the NCLF. The calls are frequently misleading; the solicitors will misstate what the NCLF does, or say they're from "the Children's Leukemia Foundation" because that sounds even more like the legitimate organization.
Sometimes, Seklar said, the telemarketers would say they were from Southfield, or give the same Telegraph Road address as the CLFM but with their own suite number. So when the legitimate organization's lease expired, it fled to Troy.
Unlike the NCLF, hunkered down in its brass-fronted mail drop, the CLFM has a real door. It's glass, and when you look through it you can see real people doing real work, putting honest money to good use.
National Children's Leukemia Foundation's post office box (Neal Rubin)
Model Janice Dickinson poses with Steven Shor in 2004. (Getty Images)
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