Yesterday, we brought to you a tale about Don Tollefson allegedly ripping off local Eagles fans who paid for trips organized by Tolly and his charities. The trips have been cancelled, but Tollefson has yet to refund payments from Anthony Taormina, a manager at an East Norriton bowling alley, and several patrons of Kenney’s Madison Tavern in Warminster.
But it goes much deeper than that. Tollefson has apparently ripped off people across the Delaware Valley, from bargoers at the Windrift in Avalon to the Officer Brad Fox 5K Foundation (which is run by Kenney’s Madison Tavern).
Tollefson is being investigated by Warminster police.
Join me now in the murky world of Don Tollefson and his multiple charities.
Tollefson is tied to at least four charities – Winning Ways, One Child Saved, Tackle Hatred Now and Employ Young Adults – all relating to THE CHILDREN, as Tolly calls them. It’s a confusing mix of do-gooding, as Tolly operates under these names interchangeably.
Winning Ways is the old name of his charity, according to Tolly in this 2008 interview with Phillyist:
“My charity is One Child Saved. For many, many years it was known as Winning Ways and we just changed it about a year ago to reflect the new website and really speak to exactly what it is that we try to do. What we do is we use athletes and entertainers and people in the television industry to talk to disadvantaged children in this tri-state region about three, to me, very important things, one of which is anti-hatred curriculum, one of which is anti-violence curriculum, and then the third one is a constant connection with the motivation for careers. And we’re about to launch our biggest initiative this summer and at the start of the fall school year called “1000 Kids, 1000 Jobs” where once a month we’re going to bring together adults who have a thousand different jobs and they’re going to meet with a thousand inner-city kids to get them interested in the world of careers.”
They changed the name to reflect the new website, which, today, doesn’t exist:
The website that does exist is EmployYoungAdults.com, and it looks totally legit(!):
Tolly loves ALL CAPS.
Here’s how he describes his charity on that page. He even includes a PO Box and PayPal link [account name: ONE CHILD SAVED] to which you can send money. What a guy!
Thanks for visiting!! EMPLOY YOUNG ADULTS is focused on getting disadvantaged children into positive career paths with in-school curriculum; after-school programs & unique career strategies.
CHERISH ALL CHILDREN!!…Help us honor the children of One Child Saved & Winning Ways. Your donation will help so much with our respect camps, scholarship programs & our partnership with the United States military. In particular we are working with great Wounded Warriors like the AWESOME Tim Donley from Sounderton PA.
Lance Corporal is the kind of human being our children can learn so much from & your donations will help facilitate events with these true heroes!!
ONE OF OUR CORE VALUES IS GETTING YOUNG ADULTS INTERESTED IN POSITIVE CAREER PATHS BY GAINING PART-TIME & FULL-TIME EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITIES. TO MAXIMIZE OUR EFFECTIVENESS, WE HAVE COMBINED THE RESOURCES OF ONE CHILD SAVED AND WINNING WAYS EDUCATION TO MAKE SURE WE GIVE AS MANY CHILDREN AS POSSIBLE AS MANY OPPORTUNITIES AS POSSIBLE. THANKS IN ADVANCE FOR YOUR DONATIONS WHICH CAN BE MADE ON THIS PAGE OR IF BY CHECK CAN BE MAILED TO WINNING WAYS AT P.O. BOX 40035, PHILADELPHIA, PA 19106 AND WHICH WILL HELP SO MANY OF THESE BEAUTIFUL CHILDREN SUCCEED MORE & MORE WITH BRIGHT FUTURES! THANK YOU SO VERY MUCH FOR CARING ABOUT THESE CHILDREN!!
I’m guessing there’s no real partnership with the United States military. Tollefson throws around the term Wounded Warriors (notice the capitalization to denote a proper name), but the real Wounded Warrior Project tells NBC Philadelphia that they have no affiliation with Tolly or his charities– this after one woman interviewed by NBC said that the money she donated through Tolly went to Winning Ways, not Wounded Warriors:
That changed in January however. Anthony Taormina, a manager for an East Norriton bowling alley, claimed he bought six ticket packages for Eagles away games for about $4500 at Tollefson’s Wounded Warrior fundraiser.
“I figured the money was going toward the charity,” he said. “I was going to get two nights at a hotel, two tickets to the game and airfare for two people to go.”
Taormina says he never received the tickets however.
Micki Keane also says she bought tickets at the same event.
“We thought it was a great opportunity for the wounded warrior,” she said. “I have a nephew in Afghanistan.”
Keane claims tickets never materialized however, even after she sent an angry email to Tollefson claiming he “did not delay in charging $4500” to her credit card. Keane also says the money was charged to a different charity, “Winning Ways Education,” instead of “Wounded Warriors.”
“He did eventually call me back and said he was sorry,” Keane said. “He said because of the change in leadership at the Eagles there were some issues. But he said he would take care of it.”
That change in leadership is perhaps the biggest crock of shit you will ever hear. The only change in leadership that occurred within the Eagles organization was the head coach, which has nothing to do with anything unless Andy Reid was personally planning and organizing Tolly’s trips.
NBC reports that none of Tolly’s charities are registered in Pennsylvania, and a check of Guidestar.org, a database of nonprofit 990 filings, turns up nothing related to Tolly or his charities. There is a Winning Ways operating out of California, but that appears to be an unrelated group home.
Nonprofits don’t have to report on under $25,000 per year in revenue, so that could be why Tolly’s charities aren’t listed. But that would be hard to believe considering the donations we’re learning about and this ZoomInfo.com profile, which estimates that One Child Saved brings in $1-5 million per year in revenue.
In other words: There’s no record of Tollefson ever filing his charities as recognized nonprofits, even though he should be.
Our tipsters would prefer to remain anonymous due to the ongoing police investigation.
Reader M won his bid for 2014 Eagles season tickets at an auction organized by Tolly at the Windrift in Avalon this summer. M paid One Child Saved $1,800 through PayPal but received neither a confirmation certificate nor a refund. His email:
Good Morning Kyle,
I read your article about Don Tollefson and what he has been doing. He had an event at the Wind Drift in Avalon, NJ over the summer which was a silent auction. The items he was auctioning off were Eagles Season Tickets, British Open Packages and many more anything ranging from $100 to $3,600. I wanted to get in touch with you since you seem to be in contact with the people and possibly helping with getting to the bottom of this and all. I know a few people who won and everything and payed via paypal and have receipts of these transactions. What do you think would be the next step in this with either possibly receiving a refund from this mess or if something else is next? Thank you in advance and looking forward to hearing from you shortly!!!
Here is M’s PayPal receipt:
WAIT– HE SPELLS IT “TOLLIE”? Shit. We’re going to have to change mid-stream. TOLLIE it is. Onward!
M says that, since August, Tollie has told him that he would get a “gift certificate” stating that he won. But the only sort of response he receives from Tollie when he tries to contact him is…
Of course, [Tollie] replies with pictures with him around kids or soldiers saying he is busy and will send over the next day and never does.
And then there’s reader W. He paid $750 for a pair of tickets and a trip to Green Bay, and his father paid for a trip to Tampa:
Back in February my best friend and our dads got 4 tickets from Tollefson to the Green Bay game in two weeks. He was apparently hanging around Steppy’s the bar in Norristown at the time and was promoting it then. We put down half ($750) of the $1500 due. The deal was airfare, 2 nights hotel and the game ticket per pair for $750. It did seem a little shady, but with the “representation” of the Eagles it seemed like a great deal. Obviously when the Denver thing happened we tried contacting him, nothing. Won’t answer e-mails or phone calls.
Not only did we have this trip planned, but my dad and a bunch of his coworkers also had a trip planned down to Tampa that again, did not happen. Thought this was mostly a Montgomery County thing but apparently he made his way around Bucks too and who knows where else.
Thought you would be interested, any other questions let me know. Trying to make this as known as possible so something hopefully can be done.
Enjoy reading your blog daily, thanks.
W’s father locked-in the trip and conversed with Tollie via hilarious and ridiculous email exchange:
Subject: Eagles road trip two people 3 days/2 nights for $750
Date: January 29, 2013 7:47 AM
Dear Mr. Tollefson,
i missed you at Steppy’s on Saturday however my friend gave me some information about the Eaglesroad trip to the Raiders. I would be interested in purchasing tickets for two people 3 days/2 nights with air, hotel and game ticket for $750.00.
Please let me know how I can reserve the seats as well paying fo rthem.
Thanks for all the good work you do.
Subject: Re: Eagles road trip two people 3 days/2 nights for $750
Date: January 29, 2013 7:59 AM
..Thanks much for the interest in the trip. Please send me the best number(s) to call you on later today…Thanks again…DON
Sent from my iPad
[presumed payment sent]
Subject: Re: Eagles road trip two people 3 days/2 nights for $750
Date: January 29, 2013 10:43 AM
THANKS AWESOME FRIENDS!!
Sent from my iPhone
And then later…
Subject: Re: Eagles road trip two people 3 days/2 nights for $750
Date: April 25, 2013 10:41 AM
We are looking to change games if possible? We are looking to switching the Dallas Cowboys Game to Green Bay Packers Game which is on the 10th of November.
Lets Go Eagles!!
Note the subject change…
Subject: MY AWESOME FRIENDS!
Date: April 25, 2013 11:06 AM
YOU ARE SET!!
Subject: Re: MY AWESOME FRIENDS!
Date: April 25, 2013 11:06 AM
Subject: MY AWESOME FRIENDS!
Date: April 25, 2013 11:09 AM
I APPRECIATE THAT!
They aren’t set. W’s father has tried to contact Tollie multiple times and “he won’t answer emails and won’t return phone calls.”
The trip to Tampa this past weekend didn’t happen.
Calls to a number for One Child Saved leads to a full voicemail box. But you’re free to try for yourself– 215-990-4413.
We’ve heard a few other stories today about Tollie being a general slime ball. He’s the type of guy that orders champagne at the Irish Pub. He also lost a legal battle with FOX 29 a few years back after being accused of milking a workers’ comp claim resulting from a car accident.
An intern (at the time) with FOX emailed us about that:
I have a story you might want to hear about Don Tollefson that I first heard while working as an intern at Fox 29 in the Spring of 2011. To the best of my knowledge, Tollefson was in a car crash on his way to a story, and because of this, had to go on disability/worker’s comp. Fast forward to a couple months later, Don is still not working with his arm in a sling. Apparently one night he helped host a PAL event at a banquet hall. During it, his arm is out of the sling, and it was clear he had no injury. Because an employee of Fox29 was there, the studio was able to call bull shit on his worker’s comp claim and fired him. This story came to me from [someone] who I worked with during my internship. If you choose to use any of this information, I would ask that I remain anonymous.
Anonymity granted, good sir.
What else do we know about Tollie and his charitable work?
Well, he’s been doing this since 1990, and there are myriad stories about him actually doing good: One bidder won – and received – a trip to the Super Bowl this past January:
When Roxborough resident Keith Conroy’s aunt asked him to participate in North Light Community Center’s annual Super Bowl raffle ticket drawing, he didn’t think twice.
It was a routine donation that he had made for three consecutive years, but never in a million years did he think he would win.
For him, it was just enough to help an organization that has provided so many kids, including himself, with a safe environment to learn and have fun. Growing up, Conroy played basketball and hockey at the Manayunk community center.
So when he learned that he won a $14,000 trip to the 47th Super Bowl featuring the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers, he jumped for joy. He said he literally jumped as high as he could.
The drawing took place during half-time of the Philadelphia Eagles game against the Tampa Buccaneers game on Dec. 9 at J.D McGillicuddy’s in Manayunk.
He had rushed over to the bar to get there in time because he was busy at home putting up the Christmas tree for his family. He said approximately four minutes after arriving, the bartender pulled the ticket out of the hat saying “you’ve got to be kidding me, Keith Conroy won.”
“My hands were shaking and I was so excited,” said Conroy. “I have three young children so it’s always something you want to do, but it’s something that is just not affordable to do.”
It was made possible through a donation by Don “Tolly” Tollefson founder of “Winning Ways,” an after-school program that focuses on career preparedness, anti-hatred and anti-violence for children between 8 and 15 years of age.
In addition to Conroy and Schmidt, eight kids from “Winning Ways” and three wounded warriors from the military will also be going on the trip.
And here’s Keith and Chris at the Super Bowl, via Keith’s Facebook page:
Tollie also speaks at schools.
Here he is being a GOOD GUY and speaking to AWESOME CHILDREN at Father Judge:
Tollefson’s efforts have certainly made a huge impact on these children. Not only does he do work for younger kids, but he also helps young adults who are interested in getting into a career in sports. He allows young adults to see first-hand what it takes to be in that field.
I went to Lower Merion High School to meet Tollefson while they were having a boys’ high school basketball tournament in the Kobe Bryant Gymnasium. He pulled out of his briefcase some 50 odd pages, which he explained, were the pre-game notes for the last Eagles game of the regular season against the Washington Redskins. “They give us way more information than any of us could want or need,” he said.
At the high school, there was a silent auction on amazing sports memorabilia consisting of a Pat Burrell autographed baseball, an all-expenses paid trip to the first Eagles game of the 2012-13 season, and trips to Phillies spring training games. All of the proceeds from the auction went back into Tollefson’s foundation to help these underprivileged kids.
The issue, however, is: What does Tollie do with these proceeds and how much does he keep for himself? It’ll probably take an IRS audit to find out. [This, CHILDREN, is why Uncle Sam requires your nonprofit to file a tax return.] Many charities hold events and fundraisers in the name of raising awareness but never actually donate any money to a specific cause. There’s a murky line between fundraising, awareness-raising and just throwing a profile-heightening party.
The DeSean Jackson Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer may be a good example of the latter two instances. Here’s a story that I never published, as I awaited 2012 tax returns, but which illustrates the point nicely. [You can skip this section if you JUST WANT MORE TOLLIE.]
In 2009, pancreatic cancer claimed the life of DeSean Jackson’s father, Bill. The next year, DeSean and his mom, Gayle, founded the DeSean Jackson Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer, whose stated mission is to raise awareness of the disease and help the families and victims of the deadly cancer. The charity encouraged a 10-10-10 rule: spend 10 minutes to learn about pancreatic cancer, tell 10 people and donate $10. It held large, swanky galas in 2010 and 2011 to raise awareness and money for cancer research. But it succeeded more in the awareness category than the funds category.
Thanks to Pro Public’s new Nonprofit Explorer, a searchable database of 990 tax forms, we now know that DeSean lost more in a rap battle to Meek Mill than his charity donated to cancer-related causes in those years. Because exactly zero dollars were given to patients, families or cancer research.
Two tax documents filed for 2009 and 2010 (fiscal years July 2009 – June 2010 and July 2010 – June 2011) show that the foundation took in $70,029 in contributions and spent at least $50k on hosting two galas, with no money ever being donated to charity in those years.
Tax documents for 2011-2012 are not yet available.
You can certainly argue that the two events raised quite a bit of awareness for pancreatic cancer and, in doing so, saved a few lives. Maybe. But the message surrounding those events didn’t exactly match their outcome:
For days he made the media rounds in Philadelphia, promoting the event and putting his name back in headlines for the first time since January.
The gala, which drew roughly a dozen Eagles in a mini offseason reunion, was personal for Jackson as he tried to raise money for a disease that took his father’s life in 2009. While it’s a reminder of a sad moment, Jackson also hoped it would honor his father, William.
Please donate $10.00 to the DeSean Jackson Foundation to help us raise funds for Pancreatic Cancer Research and support for those diagnosed with the disease and their primary caregivers.
We want to help research, help doctors find a cure for this disease. Want to knock this disease out.
Now, none of this is to say that DeSean’s foundation is a failure. Far from it, perhaps. Though the website seems to have disappeared, his Foundation sponsored a health fair at Temple – which DeSean showed up to – as recently as April and continues to host free F.A.S.T. camps for children, as well as other awareness-raising events. And it’s important to note that none of the four members listed as officers of the foundation – DeSean, Gayle, treasurer Michael Ladge or secretary Traci Ray, the foundation’s principal officer – were reported to have been paid any money in 2009-2011, meaning that, unlike certain athlete charities, DeSean’s foundation wasn’t a front to give family members and friends jobs. In fact, DeSean probably spent more on the foundation than he took in. In addition, he lends his time to anti-bullying campaigns and other assorted events. And, last September, he very publicly donated $50,000 in the name of his charity to the Wounded Warriors Project, which has nothing to do with cancer, but is a good cause nonetheless.
I can’t find any other evidence of the DeSean Jackson Foundation making a contribution. Though D-Jac did drop $25k on a bar tab in 2011.
There is a criteria for measuring effective charities, and the Better Business Bureau and other organizations use this rule of thumb: at least 65% of total expenses should go toward program services or causes and fundraising costs should be no more than 35% of contributions.
So how did DeSean do?
In 2011, the $250 per plate gala barely raised enough ($43,659) to cover its cost– $38,862. In total that year the foundation spent just north of $50k (no one took a salary) and listed only the $43,659 as revenue. The gala was listed as the only notable activity for the year. The prior year, 2010, the foundation raised $26,460, presumably through the gala, but listed no expenses whatsoever. The balance sheet simply reads a profit of $26,460 for the 2009 fiscal year, which is probably more of a lazy accounting issue than anything else. We can assume that the gala cost at least that much, probably more. I reached out to Ray at the Philadelphia accounting firm listed on the form to see if she could provide more details, but was first told she rarely came into work and was at a different location… and then told that she no longer works there at all.*
*That line isn’t meant to be mysterious or imply anything, but it was a bit odd. I just wanted to know if there were any donations not reported in the last two years.
The BBB might not rate DeSean Jackson’s foundation too highly, but it can’t rate Tollefson’s at all, because there’s no actual public record of his myriad shape-shifting charities.
Tollie, obviously, has spent money to host useful events and send people on trips. And it is perfectly normal for someone who runs a charity to take a salary. But without a 990 form, it’s hard to tell just how much he keeps for himself and how much goes back into his charities.
Lu Ann Cahn of NBC Philadelphia, whom I know is still working on this story today, did a fine job of reporting on Tollefson last night.
And it’s not just sports packages Tollie owes money on. To date, he has also stiffed the Officer Brad Fox 5K Foundation.
Friends of our page: On the day of our race, our emcee Don Tollefson offered weekend vacation packages to Eagles away games during the 2013-2014 season. In doing so, he said that half the proceeds would benefit his charity and half would come to the Officer Brad Fox 5K Foundation. In light of recent developments with these trips, we want to note that we have not received any donations from Don Tollefson or any of his charities, nor have we made any donations to Don Tollefson or any of his charities. While we appreciate Don’s willingness to join us on race day, we regret the situation many (including many of our volunteers) are dealing with right now and hope that Don Tollefson remedies the situation quickly to everyone’s satisfaction.
Friends: Please check your cell phones or other recording devices. If you have any video of Don Tollefson from race day, please inbox us at your earliest convenience. Thank you in advance for checking for us.
Tollie has also received other donations.
No one has been able to reach Tollie since The Times Herald spoke with him and he claimed that he was having trouble figuring out how to refund the money. That sounds like bullshit. But then again, it’s always seemed like Tollie and his perma-tan have built their existence on a mound of BS.
We’ll keep you updated if Eagles fans, or the Brad Fox Foundation, or anyone else, gets their money.