Give.Asia, a free fundraising platform in Asia, announced on 18 April 2023 that it would issue a 100% refund to around 3,800 donors who contributed to the “Please help Reese with SMA Rare Disease” campaign.
This decision was made due to the platform’s inability to complete its compliance process after requests were made to transfer funds to another charity, One Hope Charity (OHC).
According to Give.Asia, despite multiple requests, OHC failed to provide crucial documents such as audited financial statements and invoices.
This announcement comes amid allegations made in a Facebook post on 11 April 2023 that surfaced on the Baby Reese account, which claims that Give.Asia has yet to transfer over $200,000 worth of funds (RM670,229.68) to OHC.
OHC has officially taken over Reese’s campaign since 12 December 2022.
Who is Baby Reese, and Why Does She Need a Crowdfund?
In November 2022, the parents of Reese, diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type 2 (SMA2), a rare and degenerative disease, launched a fund-raising campaign on Give.Asia, a fundraising platform that claims to have over a decade’s worth of experience in fundraising.
This is similar to a crowdfunding effort last year in November 2022, where a baby boy had been diagnosed with SMA 1. His crowdfunding effort was successful, with citizens raising $3 million for his medication.
Reese’s parents had similar aims to raise approximately $3 million to fund their daughter’s Zolgensma Gene Therapy treatment before she turned two years old.
Zolgensma is an FDA-approved medication that can replace the defective gene responsible for SMA. However, it must be administered before the patient turns two to be effective.
Without treatment, the disease would cause permanent muscle weakness, leaving one unable to crawl, stand, or walk. Additionally, SMA2 is a progressive disease with no known cure, and if she survived till adulthood, Reese would face respiratory problems, require a wheelchair for life, and have a shortened lifespan.
Unfortunately, Reese was already 16 months old at the time of the fundraising campaign, leaving her parents racing against time to obtain the necessary funds.
With no means to afford the expensive treatment in such a short period, her parents turned to Give.Asia for help.
Transfer of Funds to OHC
Since September 2022, Give.Asia has supported Reese’s cause, raising funds to help her receive the expensive medication she needs to survive. However, on 12 December 2022, Reese’s parents requested to end the campaign and transfer the funds to OHC.
According to Give.Asia, when Reese’s parents set up the fundraising campaign, they were informed that the funds would be sent directly to Pusat Perubatan Universiti Malaya (PPUM) Hospital to avoid any potential misuse by third parties.
This is because Give.Asia has a Trust & Safety process to ensure that funds raised are directed to the right causes specified on the fundraising pages and not misappropriated.
The platform informed them that for the remaining funds to be transferred, OHC needed to undergo its compliance process, which included a review of the charity’s registration document, bank statements, and annual financial statements to ensure their Trust & Safety protocols were followed.
Give.Asia notified Reese’s parents on 20 December 2022 that the final balance after deducting fees for Facebook marketing and bank processing fees was approximately $200,000. Once all compliance checks were completed, this amount would be transferred to OHC.
Insufficient Documents for Give.Asia’s Compliance Process
After the amount was settled, complications arose. On 26 January 2023, OHC informed Give.Asia that they would not disclose or share the documents requested by the platform.
Give.Asia then proposed that they could pay the hospital or pharmaceutical company directly. Alternatively, they offered to pay OHC only after receiving sufficient supporting documents for verification purposes.
If not, the last option was for the platform to refund all donors who had contributed to the campaign if OHC refused.
Give.Asia reiterated that the compliance process was intended to ensure that all donations made were used for their intended purpose, in this case, to cover the expenses of Reese’s Zolgensma drug.
Therefore, the documents required for submission were either the invoice for the drug purchase made by OHC or the unredacted bank transfer slip of the purchase transaction.
However, the transfer slip submitted by OHC had an amount of US$2,125,000 ($2,833,477) transferred to an unknown recipient whose identity was concealed. There needed to be more information for verification and Give.Asia requested full details from the invoice to be shared.
Reese’s parents declined this request, arguing that Give.Asia had no right to ask for the invoice or unredacted transfer slip. Instead, they suggested they visit OHC’s office to view the document.
However, using a camera or video equipment was prohibited to safeguard the confidentiality of the documents.
Give.Asia did not accept this offer, as the compliance process would still be unable to proceed without the proof of payment records.
Treatment Has Been Paid, but Funds Have Still Not Been Transferred
Reese’s parents notified Give.Asia on 12 February 2023 that Reese had successfully received Zolgensma Gene Therapy in the University Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC) on 8 February 2023 and that OHC had paid for the treatment in advance.
In response, Give.Asia requested a document to verify the claim, and Reese’s parents provided a discharge note from the hospital. However, on 22 February 2023, Give.Asia restated the need to follow the Singapore Charities Act and Regulations and conduct due diligence checks on the donation recipient.
They also emphasised their commitment to transparency and accountability and stated that without the necessary documents from OHC, the remaining donations could not be transferred.
On 24 February 2023, Reese’s parents sought further clarification on the need for the verification process. They stated that OHC could not provide the annual report, invoice, and transfer slip as requested because they contained confidential and unrelated information.
Four days later, Give.Asia announced they would close the case and communicate with the donors to refund or transfer their donations as the compliance process could not proceed.
This prompted Reese’s parents to try and obtain the necessary documents from OHC on 1 March 2023. However, they requested a written assurance from Give.Asia to compensate OHC against any potential legal action if confidential information is disclosed.
Give.Asia refused to issue such a letter.
As such, despite the outstanding documents required by Give.Asia, on 11 April 2023, OHC sent a letter requesting the transfer of remaining donations within seven days, or legal action would be taken.
In addition to OHC’s letter, Reese’s parents made a Facebook post telling donors that despite submitting all the necessary documents required for the payout, Give.Asia still has not transferred the balance.
Funds Are to be 100% Refunded to Donors
In response to the post, Give.Asia released a statement on 14 April 2023, emphasising that transferring the remaining amount to OHC without the required documents would mean disregarding their ongoing Trust and Safety process.
Therefore, they reiterated that they could not transfer the funds to OHC and would refund 100% of the donations made to the campaign and cover the costs of processing the donation, which amounts to over $10,000.
This amount also includes the expenses incurred for the Facebook advertising used to raise awareness for the campaign.
Latest Updates from Reese’s Parents
In response to Give.Asia’s update, Reese’s parents have made a Facebook post requesting understanding from donors before they request a refund from Give.Asia.
Contrary to Give.Asia’s release, they claim to have provided full cooperation and sufficient documents to Give.Asia in the payout process, including filling out an e-form with supporting documents, a bank statement, and a registration certification from OHC.
According to the post, on 12 December 2022, Give.Asia contacted Reese’s parents and sought their agreement to appoint both their platform and OHC to run the campaign concurrently after they requested to end the campaign with the platform.
Despite this, Reese’s parents maintained their decision to appoint OHC as the sole organisation for the fundraising efforts. According to their Instagram highlight, this was because some donors were uncomfortable sharing their card details, which was required by Give.Asia’s platform.
On 14 December 2022, they were informed by Give.Asia to expedite the payout process, meaning that OHC had to fill out another e-form with supporting documents. OHC complied.
On 26 January 2023, they informed Give.Asia that funds for Zolgensma had been paid to the UMMC by OHC.
However, Give.Asia requested the funds to be directly transferred to PPUM Hospital, which could not be done as OHC had already advanced the payment to the pharmaceutical supplier.
Give.Asia then requested to view the invoice or transfer slip for Reese’s medicine. In response, OHC invited them to visit their office to view the document, but no reply was given.
Since then, the balance was still not transferred to OHC, with little to no progress in the payout process. After numerous reminders by OHC and Reese’s parents, Give.Asia then requested an additional invoice and remittance of payment for Reese’s medicine and OHC’s annual report.
Despite submitting all additional documents and information requested by Give.Asia, Give.Asia informed Reese’s parents that they might still request more documents for further review.
This was what prompted OHC to issue a legal letter to Give.Asia on 11 April 2023 to demand the sum to be transferred.
Reese’s parents shared that they are confused about Give.Asia’s requests, and it seemed that there would not be an end to their requests to finalise the refund. They alleged that Give.Asia has refused to provide any clarification about their policy and explanation as to the information they sought.
They implored Give.Asia to grant assistance in the payout process so Reese could finish her recovery in peace. At the same time, they also urge the donors to refrain from seeking any refund from Give.Asia until the issue was resolved.
The post has since gained 54 shares, with comments imploring Give.Asia to expedite the payout to OHC.
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