Damar Hamlin’s Charity Sponsor, the Giving Back Fund, Embroiled in Strife
By appearances, things were going gangbusters for the Giving Back Fund on Feb. 11, when it held its yearly fundraising event at a plastic surgeon’s 5-acre estate outside of Phoenix, the day before Super Bowl LVII was played at nearby State Farm Stadium.
Just a few weeks earlier, it was announced that GBF—well-known for its work with celebrity and pro athlete charities—would take over as fiscal sponsor for the philanthropic efforts of Damar Hamlin, whose expired GoFundMe “Chasing M’s” toy drive was suddenly deluged with $9 million in new donations following his on-field collapse from cardiac arrest on Jan. 3.
The Buffalo Bills safety was just the latest high-profile client GBF had landed in pursuit of its stated mission to “improve lives by expanding the number of people and the amount of resources dedicated to giving.”
Along the way the organization, which hails a perfect score on Charity Navigator, has created a particular philanthropic niche by facilitating the social conscience of famous people. Its red-carpet client roster has included numerous stars of entertainment (i.e., Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, Cara Delevingne) and sports (Yao Ming, Ben Roethlisberger, Doug Flutie).
The nonprofit’s ongoing relationship with the NFL Players Association proved instrumental in delivering Hamlin’s haul. GBF hosts a philanthropic resource website for the union and Don Davis, the NFLPA’s senior director of player affairs, told Sportico that the partnership has been positive.
In furthering its pigskin ties, GBF has established its annual fundraiser, dubbed “Big Game Big Give,” as one of the trendiest and most extravagant Super Bowl parties. For the past 12 years, the event has feted boldfaced guests in opulent mansions in the big game’s host cities.
However, a rare peek behind its glittery curtain reveals an organization in strife and falling short of its sterling reputation. Recently, this has included a falling out between GBF and its longtime outside counsel, the resignation of multiple board members and a whistleblower complaint by a current employee about GBF founder and CEO Marc Pollick—the primary source of discontent.
“We will always seek to improve, but I can share unequivocally that this organization operates with integrity and compassion and has truly made the world a better place,” Pollick told Sportico in a statement. “I know an organization doing good isn’t necessarily the news you’re looking for, but it is our news, and we are very proud of it.”
But that is not the full story that emerges from interviews with dozens of sources—including clients, donors, contractors, board members and 24 former GBF employees—as well as a review of hundreds of pages of internal documents. Collectively, they portray an organization struggling to carry out basic oversight and accounting functions, and steeped in fear of its leader.
And yet, Pollick’s public image has endured unscathed. A Holocaust scholar prior to his career in philanthropy, he has frequently served as the media’s go-to expert for judging the charitable shortcomings of others—an unwarranted role, his critics say.
“He seems to want to be seen as a savior,” said author and philanthropist Lisa Greer, who, at Pollick’s solicitation, joined GBF’s board as its president in 2021 before quitting three months later. “I encountered a great deal of resistance and great deal of anger with just trying to help the organization.”
Pollick’s placement atop the pedestal of do-gooding is part of what has made it so daunting for those who want to speak out against him. Until recently, for the most part, they haven’t.
But on Feb. 8, three days before the Big Game Big Give event, a GBF employee sent a whistleblower letter to board member Joanne Pasternack, laying out a series of complaints against Pollick. In the letter, which would later be distributed to the full board and a copy of which Sportico obtained, the whistleblower wrote of Pollick’s “erratic and unprofessional behavior,” lack of truthfulness, onerous personal demands on staff, mistreatment of staff, and continual contretemps with contractors, clients and ex-employees.
In an unattributed statement provided to Sportico last week, GBF shrugged off the whistleblower’s letter as the product of a “relatively new employee [that] unfortunately is filled with inaccuracies and misstatements based on incomplete information.”
The whistleblower, who has worked at GBF for about a year, described a number of incidents in which the boss’s refusal to pay bills or take responsibility had become organizational burdens. For example, the whistleblower claimed Pollick had been barred from renting vehicles through Hertz because of a long-ago surcharge for damaging a rental vehicle that he wouldn’t make good on.
“A great many times he would have me book his trips without confirming the schedules of the other parties,” the whistleblower wrote. “Booking at the last minute, but demanding the best prices only to cancel the flight again the day before, sometimes lying to say he had Covid. I was not comfortable lying for him, so he would have me patch him in after waiting on hold. I booked and canceled the same pre-BGBG trip for him around 5 separate times.”
In another incident, the whistleblower said Pollick had directed them to impersonate another GBF employee to gain access to a storage facility.
“Employees are scared of his retribution,” the whistleblower wrote, a sentiment echoed by each of the two dozen former staffers who spoke to Sportico. “Employees scramble to clean up the messes his unprofessional and accusatory emails cause with clients. Instead of giving anyone the benefit of the doubt, his emails frequently begin with accusations. People, myself included, do not want to be promoted because it would mean spending more time with Marc. He seems to believe everyone is trying to scam him.”
Pollick’s exhaustive list of personae non gratae includes some of his once-closest confidants.
A latest inclusion is Andrew Morton, an attorney specializing in philanthropic endeavors of athletes and entertainers, who spent the last several years working as GBF’s outside counsel. In addition to providing legal services to GBF, sources say, Morton delivered a number of his athlete clients to the organization. Nevertheless, the relationship came crashing down just before the Super Bowl.
The proximate cause was a comment Morton made in an Arizona Republic article about athlete charities, which happened to be published the same day the whistleblower’s letter was sent to Pasternack. In the story, Morton, who was identified by the newspaper as GBF’s legal counsel, cast doubt on the tax deductible status of donations to Hamlin’s GoFundMe campaign. Pollick was incensed.
He had sought to convince Hamlin’s family and representatives that, amid all the uncertainty surrounding the player’s health, the process of managing the GoFundMe monies would be seamless and inexpensive. In exchange for handling it all, GBF would charge its standard $5,000 set-up fee followed by a monthly core services cost of $2,000, which the agreement stipulated could be revisited after the first three months.
As part of his pitches, Pollick had made a number of questionable assurances.
“We can provide a fully insured 501(c)3 Foundation for Damar and his family today that is registered in all 50 states to accept donations,” Pollick emailed Hamlin’s representatives on Jan. 4.
But GBF—having shuffled through several compliance companies over the last year—had been delinquent with its charity registrations in multiple states, according to multiple sources familiar with the situation. Records indicate they have since become fully compliant.
“The funds already raised can go into his foundation account and we can issue tax letters for every donation over $250 as mandated by the IRS,” Pollick’s email continued. “The full faith and credit of The Giving Back Fund would be behind the Damar Hamlin Foundation (it could be named whatever the family wanted), and we have a 25-year track record as an A rated public charity.”
In actuality, there was an unresolved internal debate over whether the Giving Back Fund would need to issue written acknowledgments, or if GoFundMe would take care of it. And if GBF were to take on this responsibility, it seemed like a $2,000/month fee was not nearly enough.
Moreover, during telephone conversations, sources say, Pollick had suggested to Hamlin’s family that they were under certain time restrictions from GoFundMe to convey the Chasing M’s campaign money, all while GoFundMe was saying otherwise.
In the larger scheme of things, the tax deductible status of the donations was a fairly esoteric concern—after all, only a tiny fraction of the hundreds of thousands of contributions would even qualify for write-offs.
Nonetheless, sources say Pollick was furious with Morton for doing anything that might undermine the Hamlins’ confidence in GBF. He responded by threatening Morton with a lawsuit, issuing that warning via a board member, Bradley Dock, whose day job then was as in-house corporate counsel for Stripe, the payment processing firm.
On Feb. 9, Dock emailed Morton a cease-and-desist notice accusing him of legal malpractice.
“As you well know, you are NOT GBF’s legal counsel, are not associated with GBF in any way, are not authorized to speak on behalf of GBF,” Dock wrote, saying Morton had “harmed and defamed GBF and its clients” by his comments to the Republic.
Dock’s claimed Morton did not have an existing relationship with GBF even though Morton was explicitly listed as the organization’s “legal counsel” in its most recent employee handbook, dated Dec. 14, 2022. (In a text message, Dock declined to comment.)
“Though I was legal counsel for the Giving Back Fund, I did not say nor suggest my comments involved my representation of GBF,” Morton told Sportico. “It is unclear to me what representations have been made to the NFL or Hamlin family. However, I suspect it may have been disturbing to learn the donations were not deductible.”
Just three weeks earlier, Morton had represented the organization in a two-year-old breach of contract lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court by a former client, HERicanes, which accused the Giving Back Fund of failing to provide a number of the core services it had agreed to. (After a judge ruled in favor of HERicanes in 2022, GBF lost its appeal earlier this year.)
In his initial response to a series of email queries about Morton’s status with GBF, Pollick telephoned a Sportico reporter last month, decrying the questions as “offensive” and demanding the names of the reporter’s bosses.
“Why we fire somebody is not the public’s business,” Pollick said. When asked to clarify whether GBF had, in fact, “fired” Morton, Pollick paused for a moment and then added, “Whatever happened is between the Giving Back Fund and somebody we have had a relationship with.”
On March 23, about six weeks after she received the whistleblower’s complaint, Pasternack quit GBF’s board, writing in her resignation letter that the “organization is broken.” Her departure closely followed those of two other directors, Danny Hughes and Keeley Mooneyhan.
This is not the first time the organization has seen an exodus of board members. Indeed, before becoming the Giving Back Fund’s outside counsel, Morton had been part of the GBF board that resigned en masse between 2015 and 2016. According to sources, that came after several GBF employees had pleaded with the board to investigate Pollick’s leadership. (Morton declined to comment when asked about it.)
In a statement, Pollick said GBF’s three recent board departures owed exclusively to predetermined term limits, but Pasternack, who otherwise declined to comment, told Sportico her resignation was voluntary. Hughes also implicitly disputed Pollick’s characterization of his departure, saying he decided to resign so he could spend time on other business and personal obligations. (Mooneyhan did not respond to requests for comment.)
Even considering GBF’s history of upheaval, Pasternack’s exit was striking given how closely she and Pollick had been working together. A sports philanthropy consultant who previously handled community relations for the San Francisco 49ers and Golden State Warriors, Pasternack had participated in weekly GBF staff calls in the six months before her resignation. In an email sent in March to the current board chair, Prashanth Palakurthi, the whistleblower praised Pasternack for having demonstrated a uniquely “active interest in the wellbeing of The Giving Back Fund’s staff.”
She managed this despite what former employees describe as a blockade that had long existed between the organization’s executive committee and employees.
At the same time, Pasternack had shown herself to be of “Team Marc,” having hosted Pollick at her home for a two-day off-site meeting, and later serving on the host committee for the Big Game Big Give events in 2022 and 2023.
According to multiple sources, Pasternack and Pollick had been in serious discussions over the previous year about her transitioning from a board role to GBF’s executive team with the possibility of her eventually becoming his successor. Given her background in pro sports, Pasternack was tasked as a point person in facilitating the Hamlin-GBF relationship. At the same time, Pasternack had continued to keep her own nonprofit organization, Athletes Voices, at a rival sports-focused fiscal sponsor organization called Players Philanthropy Fund.
“It raised a lot of eyebrows that she was a good friend of Marc’s, but she wouldn’t put her business in his hands,” said one former employee.
Pasternack left following her effort to organize an anonymous staff survey, an undertaking unwelcomed by the CEO. According to an email the whistleblower sent to Palakurthi—and confirmed by other sources—Pollick had secretly listened into a staff phone conversation in March in which the employee survey was being discussed. Afterwards, Pollick accused Pasternack of acting inappropriately in her role as a board member and barred her from joining future staff calls.
“The response to the request to administer the survey was troubling and, quite possibly, irresponsible and unethical,” Pasternack wrote in her resignation letter. “I naively believed that by lending my time, talent, and energy to the organization and its CEO, that it would be possible to implement changes that could protect the legacy and potential of the organization. I was wrong.”
Other board members had gotten crosswise with Pollick in the course of trying to conduct due diligence. Greer said her resignation was precipitated by Pollick repeatedly trying to stymie or dismiss requests to obtain “any kind of quantifiable information” about the organization, including items as banal as a staff list.
“The more I asked for information or documentation, the more contentious the relationship would be,” said Greer.
Another former GBF board member, who served years earlier, similarly recalled Pollick trying to thwart the board’s oversight function.
“He is aggressive in ways that are unpredictable,” said the ex-board member, who spoke on the condition they not be identified. “He trades on his past history of being this wonderful loving humanitarian.”
Born in Cleveland, Pollick attended the University of Chicago for his undergraduate studies and later pursued a doctoral degree at Boston University, where he studied under Elie Weisel, the Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate.
After serving as a Holocaust studies academic and advocate, and launching his own organization to advance Wiesel’s teachings, Pollick founded the Giving Back Fund in 1997. Originally, the organization was based in Boston, before relocating in the early aughts to celebrity-heavy Southern California.
From its inception, fame was core to GBF’s philanthropic model—a feature Pollick made no bones about.
“I noticed that when I would call people and use my own name, I would rarely get a call back,” Pollick said in a 2009 interview with the University of Chicago alumni magazine. “But if I said I was calling on behalf of Elie Wiesel, within two minutes, no matter who it was around the world, I would get a call back. Celebrity has its privileges.”
Pollick’s sales pitch was that the Giving Back Fund could put star power to good use, by taking over the hassle of collecting tax-deductible donations for a below-market fee. The idea proved instantly attractive, as did Pollick’s talents at schmoozing the rich and famous. “He is Mr. Sweet-Talker,” Greer told Sportico. “He says stuff, and for some reason it feels believable.”
But as ingratiating as Pollick can seem, he has also cultivated the notoriety of a vindictive personality willing to go to great lengths to get even.
“If you haven’t received a cease-and-desist or nasty letter from Marc Pollick, then you haven’t worked with him,” one former GBF employee said.
In 2002, the Giving Back Fund made headlines when it filed a $15 million lawsuit against Britney Spears’ former lawyer, Mark Steverson, following the pop star’s decision to end her relationship with the GBF. The lawsuit accused Steverson, who died in 2007, of breaching his fiduciary duties as a GBF board member by encouraging both Spears and Justin Timberlake to take their charitable efforts elsewhere.
The litigation, which survived a motion to dismiss, was eventually settled for what GBF says was “hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
Earlier this year, Pollick settled a three-year-old lawsuit he filed against the Diplomat Beach Resort in Hollywood, Fla., which he originally sued for injuries and lost wages he claimed he suffered after colliding with a sliding glass door while staying at the hotel in 2019. At the time, Pollick was in Florida scouting a location for an upcoming Big Game Big Give party. Pollick, who receives an annual salary of around $250,000, eventually dropped his lost-wages claim, which could have required him to submit to discovery related to GBF’s business.
Though his record in court is mixed, Pollick’s litigious reputation has given him an aura of invincibility in the nonprofit world.
“He only gets away with that because we are too afraid that the community is too small and he has a disproportionate power in that community,” one former GBF client said, adding that for many nonprofit entities, which operate on a shoestring budget, any kind of legal or reputational threat, regardless of its merit, could spell doom.
And it isn’t just GBF staff and clients who dread Pollick’s wrath; he’s been able to strike fear in those who, at least on paper, appear either too rich or powerful to be intimidated by a bookish nonprofit CEO.
“My experience with both Marc and the board of the GBF was harrowing,” emailed one wealthy philanthropist and past GBF supporter, who agreed to provide comment on the condition of anonymity. “Marc was as disrespectful and dismissive to me as he was to his employees.”
Working at the Giving Back Fund, as described by former staff, meant constantly putting out fires started by their boss, who was interested in gaining as many clients as possible regardless of the quality of their charities or the fund’s ability to deliver for them. Many of these fires, sources say, begin with Pollick setting unrealistic expectations for new clients, either in terms of what GBF can provide or how cheaply the work can be done. “He is just obsessed with the close,” a former employee said.
Pollick’s on-the-fly desire to sign up new clients led to a capricious fee structure, the former staffers say.
As with other fiscal sponsors, GBF charges its clients—typically around $2,000 a month—to provide immediate tax exemption and regulatory compliance, as well as donation acceptance and financial accounting services. In less common circumstances, GBF has agreed instead to a flat, one-time fee or a percentage of the client’s revenue.
In addition to the baseline expenses, GBF clients can also choose to pay additional monthly fees for the fiscal sponsor’s optional “advisory services,” which purport to offer things such as strategic consulting, fundraising support and management oversight.
Former employees say that in practice, however, there is little rhyme or reason to what clients are charged—or if they are charged at all. At other times, sources say, Pollick seemed perfectly fine with undercharging clients whose causes he had a personal affinity for, or that gained him social capital.
Almost every former employee who spoke to Sportico complained about GBF’s arrangement with NEXUS, a networking community for next-gen, high-net-worth philanthropists, as one such example. As of the end of last year, NEXUS was paying monthly fees of only $3,000, according to internal GBF records, a smaller fare than many of GBF’s less time-consuming clients, the employees said.
“Monthly fees to clients are charged based on specific criteria for the foundation including size, scope, and scale of investment,” GBF said in its response to questions. “Fees can be discounted when a foundation refers additional clients to GBF, as happens often.”
On the other end of the spectrum are clients like the Yao Ming Foundation, which multiple staffers say has effectively operated as a dormant GBF project for the last decade, while still shelling out some of the highest client fees. Yao’s charity, launched in 2008 as a response to the deadly Sichuan earthquake, had been paying GBF $5,000 a month through mid-2021, when its fee was cut to $4,000 a month. (Messages left with Yao’s agency, WME, did not receive a response.)
One former employee said that, throughout their tenure, they repeatedly raised concerns to Pollick about clients they felt were being unfairly charged, but that the boss overrode their objections each time.
Beyond what it charged for its services, former staffers say Pollick’s personal bias toward certain clients also constrained the Giving Back Fund’s fiduciary rigor.
For example, GBF employees had flagged what they believed were exorbitant office furniture purchases by NEXUS, but one source said they were later instructed by Pollick to approve it despite their objections. (GBF called this claim “unfounded.”) Internal documents also showed that in April 2020, GBF reimbursed NEXUS for a $41,800 payment it made to Spark Neuro, the company owned by the husband of NEXUS co-founder Rachel Gerrol, to rent office space. Former employees say they were troubled by what they perceived as a potential conflict of interest, but that it didn’t matter.
“We knew we never had the backing of Marc to tell NEXUS what is not a good use of funds,” a former employee said. (Gerrol did not respond to a request for comment.)
While touting itself as “more than a fiscal sponsor,” former employees say GBF has long struggled to carry out the basic functions of a fiscal sponsor: depositing charitable contributions, keeping track of the money and providing solicitation notices to donors. Even the job of reconciling client accounts has proven to be an ever elusive challenge.
Of the 168 accounts that GBF had on its books last summer, only a third were considered “in good standing,” internal documents show.
In its statement, GBF said that all of its accounts are currently in good standing, though some “are strategically dormant for a variety of reasons.”
Adding to GBF’s challenges, former employees say, has been Pollick’s steadfast refusal to spend money where it actually mattered, thus forcing his organization to undertake a series of Rube Goldberg-esque workarounds.
After GBF negotiated a lease buyout of its Los Angeles-based office in 2021, sources say, Pollick for a time insisted that all the organization’s mail be sent to his condo, instead of paying money for a more centrally located P.O. Box. (GBF called this claim “unfounded.”) Until early last year, GBF had yet to use customer relationship management (CRM) software, instead relying on a mishmash of Excel and Google spreadsheets, copies of which were obtained by Sportico. The upshot? Multiple staffers and former clients say it has been a common occurrence for earmarked donations to be initially placed in the wrong accounts.
“The whole reason you get a fiscal sponsor…is so you can focus on the mission and they handle the back-end stuff,” said the former GBF client, who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal from Pollick. “That is not how it went. Keeping track of what they were doing and making sure it was done correctly took up so much of my time and I didn’t have faith that I could continue to fundraise and get all the money I was fundraising.”
In its breach-of-contract suit, HERicanes alleged that after engaging GBF in September 2021, the latter did not provide agreed-upon weekly account balance updates or monthly profit and loss statements; failed to accurately manage donor thank-you letters; and at one point mistakenly sent a receipt to a credit card issuer instead of a major donor.
The year before, GBF had tried to farm out its back-end financial process to its nonprofit rival, Players Philanthropy Fund. But, according to sources, the engagement lasted less than two months. PPF declined to comment.
The Giving Back Fund’s public tax filings show the organization used different CPAs for each of its last three returns in what sources describe as a perpetual cycle of firings and resignations from accountants and auditors. The constant flux has served to only further purplex GBF’s bookkeeping, according to former employees.
After hiring the national accounting firm Wegner in 2021, GBF moved to consolidate its clients into a single bank account, sources say. Up to that point, it had maintained scores of separate client bank accounts through J.P. Morgan’s small business system, in which each client had the opportunity to view their account status in real time. The new system no longer enabled this outside access, thus forcing GBF to produce monthly statements and P&L documents—something it wasn’t well equipped to do. No sooner did the consolidation happen, then Wegner resigned, according to sources, leading Pollick to return GBF to its previous system of 100-plus individual accounts.
“Marc was like a squirrel in the street, going back and forth,” one former employee who was present during the transition said.
Wegner declined to comment, citing accountant-client privilege, but stated in an independent audit report of GBF that it had “encountered no significant difficulties in dealing with management.”
This January, GBF filed, on extension, its tax return for 2021, which contained a number of reporting gaps and curious figures. For example, the organization claimed to have earned only $98,818 that year in management and consulting fees, even though this served as one of its key revenue streams, which had generated hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in years past.
The 2021 tax return’s statement of functional expenses contained numerous empty categories on line items such as legal, accounting and benefits paid to current top employees. These had previously been filled out in earlier returns. The organization reported spending about $3.4 million on “professional fees” in 2021, yet included no names in the section of the tax return for independent contractors earning at least $100,000.
As with its auditors and accountants, the Giving Back Fund has had a similarly difficult time retaining the firms it hires to process its state-based charity solicitation registrations.
In the last year alone, GBF has cycled through three different compliance companies. Sources say URS Compliance resigned the account, after which the Giving Back Fund hired Harbor Compliance this past November. (Both firms declined to comment.) Two months later, Pollick fired Harbor and hired Charity Compliance Solutions. However, within just days of being onboarded in January, Charity’s president, Michelle Menzel, sought to terminate the relationship because of the way Pollick was treating her.
“I am seriously getting a bad feeling regarding this partnership,” Menzel wrote to Pollick in an email that was referenced in the whistleblower’s letter. “I think you(r) organization would be better off with a smaller compliance company that doesn’t have 100’s of clients that depend on them and work within our set parameters.”
Ultimately, Charity Compliance agreed to stay onboard only after GBF promised she would not have to deal directly with Pollick. In an interview, Menzel said that things have gone “smoothly” since.
Former employees say another constant source of tension was Pollick’s obsession with the organization’s reputation. A particular fixation, sources say, was the Giving Back Fund’s rankings and comments on Glassdoor.com, a website that collects anonymous employee feedback about where they work.
Multiple ex-employees said Pollick repeatedly instructed them to post positive feedback on the website. He has also tried neutralizing the negativity himself, responding in his official capacity to comments by attacking the people he believes are behind the anonymous criticism.
For example, in response to a comment posted in January by a self-described “intern,” who castigated Pollick as “scum” and GBF as a “horrible work environment,” Pollick replied with a post claiming the author had been fired because nobody liked working with the commenter.
As of this week, the GBF was scoring a 3.3 (out of 5) stars from 20 reviews inputted since 2017, a rating that was significantly boosted in recent weeks by two five-star marks from those claiming to be a current GBF “manager” and “senior foundation manager.”
While Pollick has directed his staff to sing the praises of his organization, sources say he routinely badmouths those who have worked for him.
“I can’t remember him telling me about any staff member that was positive, ever, over three months,” Greer said. “And I found myself in the position of defending them.”
Given the dynamic, it is perhaps little surprise that GBF has seen waves of staff attrition over its history.
One former staffer who worked at Giving Back Fund for about six months before quitting said the workforce had turned over twice during her time there. Another former employee, using company directories, determined that at least 50 people had cycled through GBF’s approximately dozen-person staff over the course of a three-year period. And departure does not necessarily bring quick relief, say former staffers, who recount Pollick’s hostility and the organization’s mayhem trailing them out the door.
“He seems hyper-fixated on the worry that former employees are somehow out to get him and the company,” the whistleblower employee wrote to the board.
Multiple former employees complained of their final paychecks being delayed, clashes over their paid time off, and Pollick continuing to harass them in phone calls and emails long after their departures. The whistleblower cited a recent example in which a former employee had asked for an access code that was sent to their old GBF email, in order to print out their W-2 form.
“Marc instructed them to ignore the request,” the whistleblower wrote. (GBF called this allegation “unfounded.”)
Last April, a different former employee filed a wage complaint with the California Department of Industrial Relations, accusing GBF of failing to properly compensate her for paid time off. The ex-staffer sought both the vacation wages she said she was owed and waiting time penalties, according to documents obtained through a public records request.
Prior to the complaint being filed, Pollick sent an email to the former employee, deriding her for seeking legal advice from the Los Angeles Labor Commission.
“I’m frankly shocked that you seem to have time to waste calling labor offices,” Pollick wrote in an email, which later became evidence in the ex-employee’s complaint. “When we asked you to stay a bit longer to help us out to give us a chance to find your replacement, you insisted that you needed every minute of the extra time to prepare to leave the country. But apparently, you now have plenty of time.”
Though Pollick has been quick to end relationships with employees and contractors, that’s not the case with clients.
The boilerplate language in GBF’s standard services agreement stipulates that the client can move to terminate the partnership without cause, provided it allows for a “wind-down” period, typically either 30 or 60 days.
“In the event of any termination of this Agreement, (GBF) shall dispose of the assets and liabilities associated with Client and the Project in any manner consistent with applicable tax and charitable trust laws,” the contract states. “Client may propose the recipient of any such disposition; provided, however, that by law, (GBF) shall make the final determination thereof.”
While this may seem simple enough, former employees say Pollick has repeatedly run clients through excessive and guilt-tripping gauntlets in order to keep them—or at least their money—from abandoning GBF.
“He would drag it on so long that he would literally almost not let a client out,” said one former employee. “Even if they followed everything to a T, he wouldn’t allow someone to leave, and he would hold their money for so long hoping they would give up and then he could say they walked away so we are going to assume their funds.”
Sportico reviewed copies of correspondence Pollick has sent to former clients, in which he castigated them for their perceived disloyalty and lamented how “no good deed goes unpunished.”
In one email exchange, a departing client noted that there had been several five-figure donation checks that had been mistakenly put into their organization’s bank account. Pollick insisted that none of the erroneous transfers were GBF’s fault and suggested the client was being insufficiently appreciative.
Fiscal sponsorship is often used as temporary bridge for charitable initiatives that have yet to receive their IRS tax-exempt status. Though GBF sells itself as a “flexible, convenient vehicle,” sources say Pollick is anything but flexible when clients indicate a desire to move on, at times resorting to what one former employee called “character assassination.”
One of GBF’s former clients was started by the mother of a child who suffered from a rare disease. After the organization opted to leave GBF for another fiscal sponsor, a seething Pollick told a room of his staff that he cared more about the child than the mother did, according to two staffers who were present.
Recalling the anecdote, one of the former staffers said it underscored what was, in their experience, “a guy willing to make any rationalization to support his ego.”
To that end, a number of people who have worked with GBF say their experience has left them questioning question Pollick’s altruism.
That is not, however, the current appraisal of Palakurthi, the chairman of GBF’s board.
In a statement vouching for the board’s “full confidence” in the CEO, Palakurthi said Pollick’s “heart and passion for helping boost the impact of countless philanthropic causes is rare and highly admirable.”
Carrying a distinctly different view, Greer, GBF’s former board chair, says she is speaking out now because she worries about a destructive effect Pollick’s leadership could have on the wider philanthropic community.
“New and younger donors, I want them to trust the charitable sector and be able to feel good about helping others,” said Greer. “And when you have any organization within that which doesn’t feel right, I worry those people who just dipped their toe in the water with giving will instead just put money in a donor-advised fund and let it sit there.”
For now, the more pressing question facing GBF is the fate of Damar Hamlin’s Chasing M’s charity—currently the most prominently displayed of projects listed on GivingBack.org.
According to a GoFundMe spokesperson, none of the $9 million raised on its platform has yet been transferred to the Giving Back Fund. What’s more, Kelley Denny, a spokesperson for Hamlin, repeatedly declined to answer questions about the status of the relationship with GBF, saying only that there would be an announcement in the coming weeks addressing next steps for Chasing M’s. In addition to the GoFundMe campaign, the Giving Back Fund has been operating a parallel fundraiser for Hamlin’s charity through its third-party crowdfunding platform, Give Lively.
In the event Hamlin ultimately decides to take his millions of dollars in donations elsewhere, GBF’s history suggests it could get ugly.
“Many clients had to fight for a long time,” one former employee said. “Most of them that I have seen ended up reaching some sort of compromise where they leave a lot of money at the Giving Back Fund.”