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May 25. 2013 9:37PM

Bins for clothing, book donations may get identifiers of for-profit owner


Mothers Against Drunk Driving's logo appears on a donation collection bin. CMRK, a for-profit company that pays MADD for use of its logo, might soon add a notice telling donors the bins are owned by the company. (SHAWNE K. WICKHAM/Union Leader)

CONCORD - Donation collection bins in New Hampshire that bear the red logo of Mothers Against Drunk Driving soon may also feature notices that they are owned by a for-profit company that pays MADD a licensing fee for that logo.

Fawaz El Khoury is the owner of CMRK Inc. of Northborough Mass., which owns the white bins that accept donations of used clothing and books. He met recently with officials from the charitable trusts unit of the Attorney General's Office to discuss adding language to those bins to clarify what MADD gets out of the arrangement.

And while the exact wording has not been worked out, both sides characterized the discussion as constructive.

"We expressed our concerns that we didn't want to mislead the donating public, and he expressed a desire to work with us," said Anthony Blenkinsop, director of the charitable trusts unit.

At issue is the fact that the bins bear only the MADD logo with no explanation of where the proceeds from collected items go, Blenkinsop said.

"We just expressed our concern that we viewed it as potentially misleading to donors who felt they were donating to a nonprofit organization when he, in fact, is not a nonprofit organization," he said. "We thought there should be something on the bins to reflect the fact that these bins are, in fact, operated by a for-profit agency."

Reached by telephone, El Khoury said he will comply with whatever the Attorney General's Office wants.

"We're working on wording to try to figure out what we have to do to be 110 percent in compliance with the rules and regulations of the New Hampshire charitable trusts division," he said. "We said, 'please help us to do what's right and what is correct, and help the organization in between.' "

"We are out there to help a charity, number one," he said.

The issue first arose last fall after a New Hampshire resident contacted the AG's Office to ask about the MADD boxes.

At that time, a spokesperson for MADD told the Sunday News the anti-drunk-driving organization has an agreement with CMRK that allows the company to post MADD's logo on the collection bins in exchange for an annual licensing fee of $10,000.

El Khoury said he offered to put collection bins in New Hampshire when he learned that the MADD chapter here was struggling.

He said he has not made any profit from what he collects from boxes in New Hampshire. And he said he is losing several locations here because the lease contract is expiring.

Still, he said, "If we expand in New Hampshire, then we will turn around and start to give them (MADD) more income as we make more income."

Blenkinsop said his office is working on suggested language that would clarify the relationship between MADD and CMRK.

It's not only New Hampshire that's been trying to figure out whether and how to regulate the proliferation of collection bins at strip malls, convenience stores and gas stations.

Blenkinsop said some states have passed laws regulating donation collection bins. He said it's too early to say whether legislation is needed here.

However, he said, "It's going to be worthwhile to look at what other states have done, just to get a sense of what's out there."

Blenkinsop said it's also incumbent upon the charities in such cases to make clear how much of what is collected is actually benefiting them. "I would hope any nonprofit entity would want to make sure the public is given information that allows them to make an informed choice," he said.

Anna Duerr, director of communications at MADD's Texas headquarters, said in an email that her organization has been in touch with CMRK "and we are working together to clarify the language on the bins."

swickham@unionleader.com



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