Most people don’t expect anything in return when they donate to charity. But the Kars 4 Kids charity decided to change that status quo; it tries to give back to those who make donations.
"Back when we were small and local, that was the idea — to not only ask people for donations but to provide people with something in return," said Wendy Kirwan, the director of public relations for Kars 4 Kids. "Even now, most of our fundraising efforts are about providing services for the community."
The charity’s car donation program is its most well-known fundraiser. Those looking to get rid of old vehicles can call the charity, and the group will come collect the vehicle at the donor’s convenience. The vehicle is then sold at auction or sold for parts, and the profits go directly to the charity. Donors receive a tax deductible receipt.
Kirwan said the charity’s iconic jingle, which was created to advertise its car donation program, helped the charity grow from its humble beginnings. The lyrics inform listeners of the charity’s phone number: "1 877 Kars 4 Kids, k-a-r-s for kids, 1 877 Kars 4 Kids, donate your car today." Kars 4 Kids now operates car donation and collection services in dozens of states, including South Dakota.
"When the jingle took off, it gave us brand recognition nationwide," Kirwan said.
KVHT, a Yankton-based radio station, recently donated its News Beacon vehicle to Kars 4 Kids. Simon Fuller, the sales manager and co-owner of KVHT, said the jingle alerted him to the existence of the charity.
"I heard their jingle, which is an awful jingle, but sometimes awful is good," he laughed.
According to Kirwan, the charity was founded in New York by CEO Eli Mintz. He wanted to continue the charity work of his father, a Jewish Rabbi, so he created Kars 4 Kids. The charity was incorporated in 2000.
"Our mission deals primarily with youth development and education," Kirwan said. "We have mentoring programs and summer programs. We do many programs where we deal with kids directly, but we also do some advocacy and awareness campaigns."
Kirwan said the charity remains affiliated with the Jewish religion.
"We still operate primarily in the Jewish community, but we now have some programs that extend that work to all kids," she said.
The most recent Kars 4 Kids awareness campaign is one such program. The campaign is aimed at preventing the death of children left in parked vehicles.
"There’s this phenomenon of parents who forget their kids in the car, and we wanted to raise awareness about the dangers of that, so we created a video that went viral," Kirwan said. "And then we put out this app that triggers a reminder for the parent or driver to remember to take their kid out."
The Kars 4 Kids Safety app is free to download and uses Bluetooth technology to issue the reminders.
Kirwan said the charity is continuing to expand its programs as more people donate. She said the car donation program is popular because many people don’t want to deal with low-value or broken vehicles.
"People have very busy lives, and sometimes, the amount you can get back from selling your car is not worth dealing with the process," she said. "We are very quick and can arrange a pick up in a day."
Car donation may also be an appealing option for those people attached to their cars.
"A lot of these cars have a sentimental value," Kirwan said. "When you donate it, you are getting more value out of your car, and your car has a lasting impact on society. It gives people a good feeling and does good for the world."
KVHT had similar reasons for choosing to donate its News Beacon vehicle. When 5 Star Communications bought the station six years ago, the company also inherited the station’s old Mercury Tracer.
"We were debating if we should keep the car six years ago," Fuller said. "Our news director at the time, Robert Pfund, said, ‘Gosh I’d really like it if we could put a little TLC into it and get it wrapped up. We could call it the News Beacon!’ So this vehicle was given more life, and it served us well. I heard many of the stories of it going on sales trips. You just heard many stories from the staff. It’s been a station vehicle for a long time."
But eventually, the car’s age caught up to it.
"The transmission was shot, and things were reaching the end of their life in the car world," Fuller said. "It was like ‘Well, how much more does a guy or gal do to this thing?’ And then I heard about this Kars 4 Kids. I asked the owner, Jeff Fuller, ‘Versus getting $50 for scrap, how about we do something that would be a little bit more impactful, a little more meaningful and donate it to them?’ He agreed."
Fuller said he felt donating the vehicle was a good way to end its time at KVHT.
"I did post it to Facebook and did a little R.I.P. for the News Beacon. I think we feel better (about donating it) than having it get smashed up and crushed down," he said.
The ease of the donation process was a plus for Fuller.
"It was super easy and convenient," he said. "They just handled everything."
Kirwan invited anyone interested in donating a vehicle to Kars 4 Kids to visit the charity’s website at www.Kars4Kids.org or to call the charity at 605-734-8988.
"The average donor has two goals: to do something good with their money and to get something off their hands," she said. "We seem to be the right solution for them."