Damar Hamlin filed a two-page Articles of Incorporation with the Pennsylvania Department of State in May 2020 to establish the Chasing M’s Foundation.
The charity of Damar Hamlin is facing new challenges
UPDATE (Jan. 7): On Friday, donations to Hamlin’s GoFundMe campaign surpassed $8 million.
He described the entity’s mission as follows: “Providing scholarships and promoting education for High School and College athletes.” But it appeared to be an afterthought.
On December 14, 2020, Hamlin launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise $2,500 for his foundation’s first initiative: a toy drive for his mother, Nina’s, daycare facility.
“As I embark on my journey to the NFL, I will never forget where I come from and I am committed to using my platform to positively impact the community that raised me.” Hamlin wrote on the GoFundMe campaign page.
Millions of dollars have poured into Hamlin’s two-year-old GoFundMe campaign in response to the horror of his medical emergency Monday night at Cincinnati’s Paycor Stadium.
Less than 18 hours, his foundation had raised $4 million. Chasing M’s grew overnight from a modest toy drive for college kids to a serious, seven-figure operation, all while its principal was medically sedated in a hospital room.
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As a result, Hamlin’s family and management must now figure out how to handle the unexpected outpouring of financial support while also bringing the foundation into compliance with state and federal regulations, in collaboration with GoFundMe.
“We are in touch with representatives for the family, and our Trust & Safety team is working to help ensure funds are safely delivered.” A GoFundMe spokesperson told Sportico.
The funds would be directed to Chasing M’s Foundation, according to the crowdfunding platform. Jaster Creative, Hamlin’s marketing team, did not respond to requests for comment, but the campaign passed the $6 million mark on GoFundMe on Wednesday afternoon.
“We will also work with GoFundMe to email all donors with more specifics regarding the use of funds as those details are available,” the update stated. “The foundation supports toy drives, back-to-school drives, kids camps, and more. We’re hopeful about Damar’s future involvement in disbursing the incredibly generous contributions.”
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, GoFundMe’s largest campaign was organized by another NFL player, J.J. Watt, who raised over $37 million in 2018 for the victims of Hurricane Harvey. At the time, Watt’s charity was registered as a 501(c)(3).
Chasing M’s, on the other hand, retains the organizational sophistication and rigor befitting an unpaid NCAA athlete—rather than an NFL starter, let alone one who has unexpectedly, and tragically, become a global trend on Twitter. To begin with, Hamlin’s foundation is a Pennsylvania nonprofit corporation, not a federal nonprofit charity. (As a result, donations to his GoFundMe page, according to experts, should not be tax deductible.)
The official address of the charity is Hamlin’s parents’ house in McKees Rocks, a town of about 6,000 people in western Pennsylvania. The same address is used by Chasing M’s LLC, a for-profit company founded by Hamlin in 2017.
According to legal experts who spoke with Sportico, the original stated purpose of the nonprofit Chasing M—high school and college athlete educational assistance—could become a potential sticking point.
This specific language is still legally relevant under Pennsylvania’s charity laws, which hold organizations accountable to their stated purpose and empower the state’s attorney general to investigate how funds are spent. In a statement issued late Wednesday, the AG’s office confirmed to Sportico that the GoFundMe was within its jurisdiction.
“Our office’s concern focuses on ensuring that any donations collected are used for the purposes that were represented to the donors,” Deputy Attorney General Mark Pacella said in a statement. “The donations received by GoFundMe obtained on behalf of Damar Hamlin are subject to the Pennsylvania Solicitation of Funds for Charitable Purposes Act as it applies to all Internet fundraising campaigns when the charity and/or the fundraiser is located in Pennsylvania.”
Jaster Creative posted an initial update to the GoFundMe campaign, requesting donations for “Damar’s community initiatives and his current fight,” implying that Hamlin could use some of the funds. However, that language was later removed. Experts believe Hamlin would be ineligible to receive funds donated to this campaign due to its charitable representations.
Despite being held to less stringent standards than registered charities, nonprofit corporations in Pennsylvania are prohibited from providing any “incidental” income to members, directors, or offices.
Chasing M has no members, according to its charter, and Hamlin is the sole incorporator. It’s unclear whether the entity has a Board of Directors; this information isn’t required to be filed with the state, but it could be. If there isn’t a board, it could cause a bigger problem that will need to be resolved in court.
If a nonprofit corporation receives more than $25,000 in a given year, it must register as a charity in Pennsylvania. Chasing M’s will almost certainly be required to register as a charity in the majority, if not all, of the 38 states that currently have such requirements, given the breadth of its donors. Out-of-state charities, for example, must register in New York if they receive more than $25,000 from New York residents.