Whenever a nonprofit group receives a saintly anointment and evades standard scrutiny, especially during a public and emotionally-wrought crisis, that is generally an excellent time to examine their IRS 990 tax filings.
Back in the fall when a tragic spate of gay and questioning youths committed suicide after suffering horrific bullying, the Trevor Project was put on a pedestal, given a halo and donations poured into the group's coffers. People around the country upset over the bullying and suicides turned grief into action, calling for lots of support for the project.
Let me state now that the Trevor Project is a valuable resource assisting vulnerable at-risk youths in many ways, and that it is filling a niche in the community.
However, it is a growing component of Gay Inc and no matter how worthy its mission and who it helps, it should be held to high standards of transparency regarding fiscal information and thereby provide accountability to donors, the youths served and the at-large gay community.
At the time of the autumn suicides, I looked the Trevor Project's IRS 990 tax filings and opted to not write about the details contained therein because of the expected criticism I'd receive asking how I could question anything to do with the nonprofit at such a time.
Also, I was uncomfortable seeing how the Trevor Project was used by the Human Rights Campaign as cover when much-deserved flack was flying at them because they took over the lease of Harvey Milk's old camera shop on Castro Street, without first taking the temperature of the community about that real estate deal. The glow of the project's halo extended over to HRC. Not a healthy sign.
Now, many months later, and four-weeks after Charles Robbins abruptly resigned as executive director, I'd like to focus attention on the project and its stewardship.
Chris Geidner at Metro Weekly was the first to break the news in April that Robbins had stepped down. Geidner and others cited a now-deleted bio page on Robbins at the project's site and reference to their budget. The bio still appears on a gay news site down in Florida:
During his four-year tenure at The Trevor Project, the full-time staff has grown from five to 24 and the annual budget has quadrupled to $4 million.
I'm not sure why the project makes the yearly $4 million claim when their IRS 990s don't support it. The project receives major brownie points for posting their four most-recent tax returns. Revenue last year was at $1.3 million and rose to $1.6 million in FY 2010, way less than half the alleged annual budget claimed.
During that fiscal year, Robbins's pay came to $140,275, making his compensation equal to almost 10 percent of the budget.
Instead of waiting for someone to come knocking at the door, the Trevor Project should be coming to the community with updates about what's happening concern the hunt for a new ED and other matters. Their page for press releases omits their April email about the Robbins resignation, and nothing is shared about finding his replacement. Standard info like what search firm has been retained, or the temporary boss will remain at the helm for the time being, etc., can't be found at their site.
Trevor Project stakeholders are not aided when the nonprofit can't post an announcement about the ED moving on, one-month after his departure no further info has been shared, and none is promised in the near future. This is not accountability nor are these healthy signals.
Why did Robbins suddenly leave the project, when can we expect a full accounting to the community about his tenure and departure, why did his bio claim a larger budget than reported in IRS 990 filings, will they hold public forums to discuss all this, and what is going on regarding a new director?
Answers from the Trevor Project are needed.
(Photo: Robbins, center, at a fundraiser for his former employer, in a photo found today at the project's site. Credit: Courtesy photo.)