Paul Murphy with additional research bySam Leiva and Mike Perlstein / Eyewitness News
NEW ORLEANS -- The Metairie-based Wishing Well Foundation, USA states that its goal is to bring joy to children with terminal illnesses.
But, according to financial records gathered by 4 Investigates, the telemarketers hired by the non-profit are the ones jumping for joy.
By law Wishing Well is supposed to let the public look at its books as part of the group's non-profit status.
Eyewitness News made repeated trips to Wishing Well's office on West Esplanade and were told by an employee that we would have to discuss the request with the charity's president, Elwin Lebeau.
According to the latest IRS form we could find, the non-profit's 2008 990 disclosure form, only about 5 cents out of every dollar collected went to grant a wish.
Lebeau ducked our phone calls and never seemed to be home when we visited his house on Weigand Street in Bridge City. We wanted to ask Lebeau or his wife Lizbeth, also listed as vice president of the charity, why so little money from their national fundraising went to the sick children Wishing Well claims it serves.
'That is profoundly disturbing to me,' said Cory Sparks from LANO, the Louisiana Association of Nonprofit Organizations. 'As a donor, I want to know that my dollars make a difference in the lives of people.'
Sparks also says a well run charity gives 75 percent or more of it's proceeds toward its cause. In Wishing Well's case, it appears about 95 percent of the charity's fundraising went to the fund raisers.
'That for every $1 spent on fundraising costs, $3 should be raised,' said Sparks. 'That's with an awareness that certain techniques raise far more and certain techniques far less.'
Financial records indicate that Wishing Well raised more than $1.3 million in 2008. Of that amount only $36,000 went to grant wishes. The bulk of the money, more than $1 million, went to telemarketing firms in Illinois, Missouri and New York. Another $63,600 went to Wishing Well President Elwin Lebeau.
'We don't know whether or not this is a conscious scam or not, but I can tell you that we have run into quite a few situations where it is a scam where these telemarketing firms basically present themselves as if the are employees of the charity, when of course they're not,' said Ken Berger, CEO of the nonprofit watchdog group Charity Navigator.
Charity Navigator gave Wishing Well a zero out of five stars for six years in a row.
Berger said the charity is among the very worst in the country.
'It's so off the grid,' said Berger. 'It's so financially inefficient that the chances of it providing meaningful and sustainable results is slim to nil because it's not putting any money into the program at all.'
Charity Navigator recommends that you never make a donation over the phone, research the charity you plan to support, and if something doesn't seem right, select another charity.
A member of the board of the Make a Wish Foundation contacted Eyewitness News to point out that they do not have an affiliation with the Wishing Well organization.