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The Brown Foundation Cuts Back on Giving

Organization set up in memory of slaying victim in 1994 is struggling. Only 3.6% of expenses went to charity in 1998.

November 04, 1999|H.G. REZA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Nicole Brown Charitable Foundation, founded in 1994 to help battered women, has radically cut back on what it's given to charity the last two years--$5,630--while spending more than it ever has in staff salaries, tax records show.

The foundation has raised about $800,000, not including interest, since 1994, but in the last two years, its donations have dropped substantially, to about $147,000.

"We've granted out money. Maybe it's not as much as people would like to have seen. But we also need money to operate," Denise Brown said in an interview last week.

Denise Brown opened her records to The Times last week after media reports suggested that the foundation's 1998 tax returns showed that it fell far short of the standards for charitable giving because it gave about 3.6% of its expenses to charity that year.

In fact, over the five years the foundation has been in place, it has given about 36% of what it takes in to charity, still far short of national charity standards, according to Dan Langan, spokesman for the National Charities Information Bureau in New York.

"The standard most followed is that 60% of expenses go to charity," Langan said. "A well-run organization will give away 70%."

In the future, Brown said the foundation will continue to award small grants, but its main goal will be to help build transitional housing centers--called "Nicole's House"--throughout the country for battered women and abused children.

She said the first center may be constructed as early as next year. The centers will be able to house women and children for up to 24 months, giving a battered woman time to acquire job skills, learn parenting skills and earn a general education degree.

"I'm going to keep this foundation going forever. Nothing is going to close me down. I'm a fighter. I believe in the cause. I believe in helping the women and children. I believe in making a better life for the kids," Brown said.

The San Juan Capistrano-based organization, which is funded by contributions and revenue from fund-raising activities, was formed in 1994 following the killing of Nicole Brown Simpson. Her ex-husband, O.J. Simpson, was acquitted of the 1994 killings of Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman but was found liable in a subsequent civil case.

No Grants Given in 1997

In the first three years of the foundation, it collected $655,562 and gave out $269,000 in contributions. But in the last two years, the charitable contributions dwindled and overhead expenses have increased.

For example, the organization did not make any grants in 1997, while piling up overhead expenses of $111,261.

Lou Brown, Denise's father, ran the foundation in 1997 and, at 76, was tiring of the effort to keep the organization going, Denise Brown said. Instead of the foundation issuing grants, he gave away a book about spousal abuse to any organization that applied for a grant, she said. Reached for comment, Lou Brown, who retired from the board in 1998, referred all questions to Denise Brown.

The foundation's most noticeable expenses in recent years have been for rent and salaries. For instance, rent payments grew more than fivefold from $9,730 per year in 1995 to $48,984 in 1996.

Denise Brown said the foundation's first office was at the Monarch Bay home of her parents, Lou and Juditha Brown, where the organization paid no rent in 1994. The office was moved to a nearby shopping center in 1995 and then to a 2,700-square-foot office in Dana Point as contributions and a crush of volunteers began rolling in.

According to Denise Brown, rent payments for the bigger office were $2,089 per month, but the organization was forced to move again when the building owner raised the rent to $4,500 a month. The foundation has been at its present location in San Juan Capistrano since April, paying $1,975 per month for a smaller office.

Salaries have also increased substantially, growing from $15,558 in 1995 to $79,220 last year.

Over the last two years, $110,557 of the foundation's money has gone to salaries, including $28,000 to Denise Brown, who became chairwoman of the charity's governing board in 1998.

The organization does not have any paid staffers this year, Denise Brown said, but its expenses still have to be paid even while contributions drop off.

"Nobody's doing anything wrong," said Roger Warren, the foundation's accountant. "It's just that there has been a significant drop in revenue, and they don't have the wherewithal to do the things they want to do."

Denise Brown attributed the drop in contributions to the public's shrinking interest in her sister's sensational murder.

"At the beginning there was a huge hype because of the case. I was traveling three weeks a month, raising money and talking to groups," Brown said. "The hype has died down. . . . There are so many charities to give to. People don't have a lot of money to give to ours."

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