Anyone who donated money to Help Find Sophie through the Extraordinary Give last week may request a refund if they’re troubled by a recent report of “fraudulent conduct” by the Pennsylvania Department of State.
The Lancaster County Community Foundation, which runs the Extraordinary Give, made the offer in a comment under a story Wednesday morning about the Facebook group, which helps to reunite lost pets and owners.
Also Wednesday, an official with Help Find Sophie said the organization has already corrected the problems of the past — and criticized “bullies” who hound the organization’s members.
Help Find Sophie violated the state’s Solicitation of Funds for Charitable Purposes Act with “unfair or deceptive acts or practices” or “fraudulent conduct which creates a likelihood of confusion or of misunderstanding,” according to a document filed by the Department of State in September.
The state fined the group $1,000.
Help Find Sophie, named for a missing dog that was found dead along Route 222, was created by Jennifer Oberholtzer, of Ephrata, in 2012. The group became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in June 2017.
The group participated for the first time this year in the Extraordinary Give on Nov. 16, raising $4,500 from 75 donors.
The 24-hour marathon of giving, now in its seventh year, raised $10.2 million this year from 23,547 donors in support of 493 organizations.
Sam Bressi, president and CEO of the Community Foundation, said late Wednesday morning that no one has requested a refund yet.
However, he said, money from the Give won’t be distributed to organizations until January. Until then, the money is in hand, he said, and people can request refunds if they want.
‘Running very smoothly now’
Help Find Sophie’s president, William Fowler, said Wednesday he believes the State Department’s ruling was “fair,” although he said it “cost a lot more than $1,000 to take it to court.”
He noted the organization — which he said in 2018 reunited close to 200 pets with owners and aided in rehoming 57 pets — changed the way it operates and stopped asking for donations in exchange for its services before the fine was imposed.
“Things are running very smoothly now,” Fowler said, although he complained that the organization has “a tremendous problem with bullies on the Internet.”
People who use social media to criticize the organization don’t understand the costs involved in running Help Find Sophie, he said.
The group has nearly 18,000 followers on Facebook, Fowler said, and has helped reunite nearly 3,000 animals with their owners since it was founded in 2012.
Oberholtzer, who is vice president of the group’s three-member board of directors, receives no pay for monitoring notices from police and local animal shelters about found or missing animals, he said. He also said the group has helped foot the bill for some animals’ reclaim fees, medical treatment and microchipping.
“This is our first year as a nonprofit organization,” Fowler said. “We’re new at this, and we hope to get better as we go along.”
Fowler said he got involved in Help Find Sophie about three years ago after the group helped him find two lost German shepherds.
“It would be a shame” if Lancaster County lost it as a resource, he said.