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Buffalo Bills fans donated $442,000 to Dalton Foundation. Nearly $100,000 went to management firm
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Buffalo Bills fans donated $442,000 to Dalton Foundation. Nearly $100,000 went to management firm

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Andy Dalton was just trying to win a football game.

But the NFL quarterback's last-minute, fourth-down touchdown pass in the 2017 regular season finale not only lifted the Cincinnati Bengals over the Baltimore Ravens, it sent the Buffalo Bills to the playoffs for the first time in 17 years. And Bills fans showed their appreciation with their wallets.

More than 17,000 donors, in a display of grassroots generosity that snowballed on social media, combined to raise $442,000 for the Andy and Jordan Dalton Foundation, a nonprofit founded by the football player and his wife to benefit seriously ill and physically challenged children and their families.

1010994112 Dalton Foundation at Roswell KIRKHAM

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton and his wife, Jordan, and representatives of the Dalton Foundation present a check and visit the pediatric care unit at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center on Sunday, Aug. 26, 2018. The Dalton Foundation made a donation in appreciation of Bills fans raising money after the Bengals helped the Bills make the playoffs for the first time in 17 years.

A monthslong investigation by The Buffalo News found that nearly a quarter of the money – about $100,000 – went to the company that managed the nonprofit, a far larger share than is customary, according to industry experts.

The management company, Prolanthropy LLC, has helped create and operate dozens of nonprofit organizations for professional athletes since 2008. But its fees, while legal, are "wildly out of line," according to nonprofit oversight attorney Andrew Morton and other industry experts. Those fees drain resources from the people a nonprofit aims to help.

As The News raised questions, the Dalton Foundation ended its relationship with Prolanthropy and Jordan Dalton said it will donate all money directly to hospitals "so 100% of proceeds go to families in need."

"The financials, we weren't super involved in," Jordan Dalton said, speaking for herself and her husband. "But this thing means the world to us and I just more than anything value transparency and trust, so I want to do everything on my part to make sure everyone has answers."

The News reviewed thousands of pages of state and federal public records, consulted charity watchdog groups and other industry professionals and interviewed the Dalton Foundation's board members, tax attorney and beneficiaries. The scrutiny revealed that Prolanthropy not only profited from Bills fans' unsolicited donations, but the nonprofits it manages submit tax records that obscure how the money was used.

Andy & Jordan Dalton Foundation in action

The Andy & Jordan Dalton Foundation hosts an annual Date Night, where parents of seriously ill and special needs children are treated to an all-expenses-paid dinner date, while their children are entertained by the Daltons and a child care partner with a night of activities and entertainment, including music, face painting, gaming and a sundae bar.

Among The News' findings:

• Prolanthropy charges more for its nonprofit management services than competitors.

Prolanthropy charged the Dalton Foundation 22.5% of all revenue received by the nonprofit for its various services, according to the contract.

"I draft these agreements for a living," said Morton, a partner at Handler Thayer LLP in Chicago and chair of the firm's sports and entertainment law group. "They are 5% to 10% most of the time, and I won't do one that's over 20%. That's the absolute outer bound."

Prolanthropy also takes 20% of the value of noncash donations, a rarity in the nonprofit sector, industry experts said.

• Prolanthropy's fees were only a portion of the Dalton Foundation's expenses.

Prolanthropy's fees don't cover all management and fundraising expenses. The Dalton Foundation paid $209,000 to Prolanthropy in 2018 for running charitable events, management and fundraising. It also spent $153,000 on other management and fundraising costs such as advertising, travel and office expenses, according to its tax records.

The records paint a similar picture in 2019, when the most recent publicly available documents show Prolanthropy collected $151,000 from the Dalton Foundation and the nonprofit spent an additional $217,000 on other management and fundraising expenses.

• These expenses leave less money for beneficiaries.

In 2018, the Dalton Foundation reported $444,000 of charitable giving and events – only 63 cents of every dollar spent. In 2019, charitable giving and events accounted for 56 cents of every dollar spent, according to the tax records.

Charity Navigator, a nonprofit watchdog group, expects efficient nonprofits to direct at least 70 cents of every dollar toward charity. Best-in-class nonprofits give far more. The Children's Hospital of Buffalo Foundation, the philanthropic arm of John R. Oshei Children's Hospital, spends 97 cents of every dollar on charitable programs, according to its three most recent federal tax returns. Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, which received grants from the Dalton Foundation, spends 96 cents of every dollar on charitable programs.

• The nonprofit's publicly available tax documents cloud its giving.

Two independent nonprofit tax experts who reviewed the Dalton Foundation's tax returns at the request of The News said the nonprofit misreported that it awarded only $30,000 in grants in 2018 and 2019 combined, while a third expert said the accounting did not match his expectations.

In addition, the Ohio attorney general's office confirmed that Prolanthropy and the Dalton Foundation failed to publicly file required paperwork, including a renewed contract after it expired in 2016.

Jeffrey Ginn, the CEO and founder of Prolanthropy, did not respond to interview requests. Andrea Baker, the company's senior vice president and Dalton Foundation's managing director, cited a nondisclosure agreement to avoid discussing specifics about the business relationship.

"We embrace the fact that our business model makes us unpopular with the traditional nonprofit community, including charity watchdog groups," Baker wrote in an email to The News. "Prolanthropy is paid on a percentage basis to align the interests of both parties and to insure Prolanthropy is only paid based on performance and results actually attained. ... Prolanthropy believes that everyone, our clients, donors, and charity recipients all win in our model of focusing on combining the best practices, systems and processes of both the for-profit and nonprofit world."

The Daltons: Big decisions at age 22

Andy and Jordan Dalton were newlyweds when they created the Dalton Foundation in 2011, before the former Texas Christian University quarterback played a snap for the Bengals.

Charles "Dusty" Stanfield, a marketing professional they met through the player's agent, introduced them to Prolanthropy. The Daltons named him secretary and treasurer of the foundation. Stanfield described the job as "more of an advisory role as opposed to looking over specific numbers."

Jordan Dalton said paying Prolanthropy 22.5% of all money the nonprofit received seemed steep, but the couple was told all the company's clients paid the same percentage. They didn't explore other options.

"Honestly, we probably didn't take it serious enough," she said, "because we were 22 and right out of college and we just wanted to help people."

Taking a for-profit view of the nonprofit world

Prolanthropy bills itself as the "largest and most successful provider of full-service philanthropy management in professional sports." Baker, the Prolanthropy vice president, wouldn’t say how many nonprofits the company manages or how much money it raises. 

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A billboard that was displayed around Buffalo.

Tucked in a business park in Northern Kentucky, the company helps establish the executive board for each of its managed nonprofits, which hire the same accountant and conduct similar fundraising and charitable events. These often lead to accolades and favorable press.

Former clients Matt Birk and Charles Tillman won the NFL's most prestigious award for community service. Andy Dalton was nominated for the honor in 2016.

Ginn founded Prolanthropy a year after filing for personal bankruptcy in 2007 with more than $660,000 owed to creditors, according to court records. The bankruptcy case was settled in August 2007. Ginn described his business approach this year on a podcast hosted by country singer Matt Rogers, who emcees events for Prolanthropy's nonprofits.

"When I look at the not-for-profit world, I don't use the term 'not-for-profit' or 'nonprofit,' because even a not-for-profit who doesn't make money goes out of business," Ginn said. "You have to be able to pay your bills. You have to be able to fund the things that you do to help people.

"So a for-profit business or a not-for-profit business, you have to make money. You have be profitable. You have to be successful. I hate the martyrdom in the not-for-profit world. I hate that a lot of not-for-profits will reject sound business principles because those guys are 'for-profit.' The best not-for-profits marry both."

Prolanthropy's unusual fees

What makes Prolanthropy different from its competition is it offers professional athletes a ready-made charity. For the 22.5% fee, it handles everything from fundraising to event management to bookkeeping to public relations.

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Andy Dalton responds to cheers from the crowd at New Era Field in 2018.

But the financial ramifications of its approach were magnified by Bills fans' spontaneous donations, which required no fundraising campaign.

"A management company should never enjoy a windfall just because a charity happened to have a good year in terms of raising donations," said Laurie Styron, the executive director of CharityWatch, a nonprofit watchdog group. "Nonprofit means nonprofit."

Capture Sports Marketing, which handles all aspects of nonprofit management other than legal and accounting work, charges a range of percentages depending on the project. Its founder, Chellee Siewert, declined to reveal specific figures but said the company has never come close to charging 22.5%. Its fundraising fee is based on net revenue, not gross like Prolanthropy, and it does not take a percentage of unsolicited donations "because that's not fundraising that we did," she said.  

The Players Philanthropy Fund, founded by former Ravens kicker Matt Stover, handles financial work for more than 300 athletes, but does not run events or fundraise. Stover said it charges 6%.

"I'm giving them nonprofit status, bookkeeping, a bank account, financial statements, gift receipts," Stover said. "I'm making sure that our 990 (tax form) is filed. I have to do an audit. I do all the state registrations. Sales tax. We set up the accounts inside of all the e-commerce sites for them. We have brokered deals with credit card processing to be extremely discounted. All those things, we're bringing to them and making it much cheaper than they ever could do on their own."

Beyond Prolanthropy's fees: lots of other expenses

Public records show nonprofits managed by Prolanthropy, due to its fees and other expenses, often spend less on charitable giving and events than watchdog groups recommend.

The Dalton Foundation's 63 cents in 2018 and 56 cents in 2019 – the share of every dollar spent that went to charitable giving or events – was low, but others were even less efficient.

The Emmanuel Sanders Foundation directed an average of 41 cents of every dollar spent toward charitable programs, according to its three most recent federal tax filings. Sanders, who signed with the Bills in March, said he no longer worked with Prolanthropy, though his nonprofit is managed by a former Prolanthropy employee. They declined to comment on their business relationship.

The Eric Wood Foundation, created by retired Bills center Eric Wood, directed just 33 cents of every dollar spent toward charitable programs in 2016, the last year under Prolanthropy's management, according to public records. It was dissolved in 2017, when Wood created a fund to directly support  Oishei Children's Hospital. Wood declined to comment on his experience with Prolanthropy.

After the outpouring of support from Bills fans, the Dalton Foundation gave $25,000 and electronics it valued at $12,500 to Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo, where it held a news conference to present the donation in August 2018. But the nonprofit appears to have spent more money on its trip than it gave to the medical facility. Its 2018 tax return cites $10,500 in direct expenses attributed to a fundraising event called the "Bills Campaign." The nonprofit also chartered a plane for the trip, board members said, which helps explain $30,000 in reported travel expenses, $25,000 of which was attributed to fundraising.    

Jordan Dalton said board members reimbursed the nonprofit for these expenses with donations, of which Prolanthropy was entitled to 22.5%.

Amy Floyd, the Dalton Foundation's managing director from 2011 until 2020, is no longer with Prolanthropy. She declined to comment.

Reporting clouds how the money is used

The Dalton Foundation's filings list only $30,000 in grants for 2018 and 2019 combined. But its tax attorney provided spreadsheets that show it spent $314,000 in those years on "awards and grants" for a program that helps families pay medical bills at Cincinnati Children's Hospital.

The attorney, Joseph Carroll, a partner at Keith and Associates, a boutique law firm in Northern Kentucky that handles all Prolanthropy's clients, said the Dalton Foundation's charitable giving is lumped in with other expenses on the reports as "fees for services to non-employees."

That obscures the nonprofit's financial impact and efficiency, according to the three independent nonprofit tax experts who reviewed the Dalton Foundation's tax returns for The News. Reporting the payments as grants would have triggered additional financial disclosures about recipients and the amounts they received, information that also helps to guard against potential conflicts of interest.

"This 990 is not filled out properly. Period. Full stop," Morton said.

Carroll's response: "I think we can agree to disagree on that. It's a judgment call and people do it different ways."

Carroll said the donations to Cincinnati Children's Hospital do not fit the legal definition of grants.

"By taking the position that it's not a grant, then they don't have to itemize it," Morton said. "But it is a grant, and it's supposed to be itemized. It's not a judgment call. It's pretty clear cut."

Lack of transparency

Other than tax records and Prolanthropy's website, the relationship between Prolanthropy and its nonprofits is not conveyed to the public. There is no mention of Prolanthropy on the websites of its managed nonprofts, though the same address and phone number are listed at the bottom of each home page. Inquiries often go unreturned.

The Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance cites the Dalton Foundation for failing or declining to respond to its questions.

Charity Navigator, another watchdog group, gives the Dalton Foundation a failing rating, below its threshold to "give with confidence." This is based on the nonprofit spending less than 70 cents of every dollar on charitable giving and events and because it's missing "key accountability metrics," including an independent audit.

Prolanthropy has a history of inefficiency and neglecting to perform fundamental tasks, including registering its managed nonprofits and itself as a professional solicitor with state authorities, according to a 2014 report by the Chicago Tribune. These issues persist.

The contract between Prolanthropy and the Dalton Foundation on file with the Ohio attorney general's office was submitted in 2015 and expired in 2016. Both entities were required to file an updated agreement and other missing paperwork before continuing to solicit Ohio residents, an AG spokesperson said.

"The Andy and Jordan Dalton Foundation is using the help of a management company to run the organization, instead of employing staff," said Matt Viola, Charity Navigator's vice president of program analyst operations. "While there is nothing wrong with this practice, there should be as much transparency as possible about this arrangement presented to donors, and the financial agreements between the two parties should be one that is as efficient as possible for the nonprofit."

IRS does little to police nonprofits

There are 1.54 million nonprofit organizations in the United States, accounting for $2.62 trillion in reported annual revenue, according to Statista, a market and consumer data firm. With some exceptions for religious organizations, each is required to file an annual Form 990 tax return with the IRS and navigate a patchwork of requirements that vary from state to state.

There is little oversight.

Charities that claim less than $200,000 in annual revenue – like those founded by most pro athletes – file abridged Form 990s with basic information and minimal to no disclosures. Those above the threshold – like the Dalton Foundation – are required to file the most comprehensive version.

All 990s are posted online for public scrutiny, but the IRS examines just a tiny fraction. It reviewed 2,004 of these forms in 2018, according to public records.

"I can show you countless examples of processed, accepted, filed, posted 990s with the most egregious errors that you can imagine. Like third-grade level mistakes," said Morton, the tax attorney. "You could do it in crayon. I'm a lefty and I could use my right hand and fill it out. It doesn't matter. The IRS doesn't even look at them. They just say, 'OK, thank you.' And they put it up online. ...

"The system is premised on public disclosure of accurate information. When information is either mischaracterized or omitted or disclosed improperly, the system fails."

***

Gratitude for foundation's work: 'I cried so many happy tears'

The people who benefited from the Andy and Jordan Dalton Foundation say it changed their lives.

The Dalton Foundation provides grants for medical expenses and equipment, electronics to entertain hospital patients, a trip for children and their families to Kings Island amusement park in Ohio, dinner for parents while the Daltons and volunteers entertain their kids and Christmas gifts.

Andy & Jordan Dalton Foundation in action

Night in the Jungle, a fundraiser for the Andy & Jordan Dalton Foundation, is a family friendly night on the field of Paul Brown Stadium. The evening included a tailgate-themed dinner, silent auction, autograph signing – and Dalton threw passes to kids in attendance.

In the two years preceding Andy Dalton's fateful touchdown pass on Dec. 31, 2017, the Dalton Foundation's assets had dwindled from $250,000 to $38,000, according to tax records. Thanks to the $442,000 influx from Bills fans, Jordan Dalton said she began approving a backlog of grant requests in January 2018.

Prolanthropy arranged interviews with beneficiaries at her urging.

Katie Pohlmeyer, a mother of four, said she and her husband would have spent the rest of their lives on a payment plan for their infant son's heart surgery without the grant made possible by Bills fans.

"I try really hard not to make money a high priority in our life, but I cried so many happy tears after that happened," Pohlmeyer said.

Andy & Jordan Dalton Foundation in action

The Andy & Jordan Dalton Foundation hosts an annual Date Night, where parents of seriously ill and special needs children are treated to an all-expenses-paid dinner date, while their children are entertained by the Daltons and a childcare partner with a night of activities and entertainment, including music, face painting, gaming and a sundae bar.

Noel Helton said the Dalton Foundation helped in 2015 when her daughter was diagnosed with a rare disease and medication cost $10,000 a month.

"I never would have imagined that filling out that grant request would have made such an impact on our lives as it did," Helton said.

Renee Jackson continued to volunteer with the Dalton Foundation after it helped pay for her brother's motorized wheelchair in 2015 and his funeral in 2018.

"The smile they put on my brother's face was so important to me," Jackson said.

Cincinnati Children's Hospital expressed gratitude for the Daltons' support in a written statement to The News, citing grants, the electronics hub and the couple's involvement in events. It declined to share the amount the Dalton Foundation has provided in assistance.

The Redwood Foundation, which serves children and adults with disabilities in Fort Mitchell, Ky., also received a technology hub with special equipment from the Dalton Foundation in 2017, which it valued at $11,417. Redwood received updated equipment in 2020, which it valued at $2,072.

"They were very, very generous," said Lisa Staub, a speech-language pathologist. "When the Daltons came to Redwood, when ESPN came to Redwood, (it helped) build awareness in the community that we exist."

Laurie Styron, the executive director of CharityWatch, cautioned about such testimonies.

"A few anecdotal examples don't tell the whole picture," Styron said. "That doesn't tell you if enough people were helped relative to the resources that were directed toward the charity. It's possible that so much more good should have been done, and you just have no way to verify that in some cases."

Jordan Dalton estimates she and her husband gave the nonprofit $300,000 between 2011 and 2019. She said they are glad they had the nonprofit despite Prolanthropy's big expenses.

"As hard as that was a pill to swallow at times, we were able to do what we did well because we didn't have to focus on all of the logistics and the accounting," she said. "We got to have our vision. We got to be one-on-one with the families. We got to build relationships. We got to speak life into these people. We got to do what we were passionate about, because Prolanthropy did the legwork. And that was the best decision for us."

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Andy Dalton is returning Buffalo’s thank-you with one of his own. Dalton, the quarterback for the Cincinnati Bengals, and his wife Jordan announced Wednesday that their foundation will be making a donation to Roswell Park as part of the Bengals’ preseason visit to the Bills on Sunday, Aug. 26 at 4 p.m. The donation is a response to Bills

Buffalo Bills fans have been donating en masse to the Andy & Jordan Dalton Foundation, after the Bills secured a playoff berth in part due to a Dalton-led Cincinnati Bengals comeback victory over the Baltimore Ravens. As of 5 p.m. Wednesday, more than 11,000 donors have contributed more than $255,792 to the foundation. Click here to make a donation.

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