The Screwing of the Good Samaritan – The Problems with eBay’s Giving Works and MissionFish

eBay’s Giving Works and their charity portal Mission Fish allows you to earmark a percentage of your auction earnings to be donated to any one of a number of charities which are participating in the eBay Giving Works program. In addition, there are incentives for donating a majorty of the earnings to the charity of your choice. For example, if you donate 90-100% of the winning bid, eBay will donate your insertion and final value fees.

And they make it really easy to sell through Giving Works. You create an account at the Giving Works partner, Mission Fish. Then, when you create your auction listing with eBay, if you select the “give to charity” option, Mission Fish tracks that auction for you. You must use PayPal or a credit card as methods of payment.

I was very excited by the potential to do good things with this program, and created as a vehicle for attracting notice to the cause, and to the unique celebrity auctions I listed through eBay’s Giving Works. It also gave the Internet Patrol a way to provide our readers with a way to donate to charity without having to worry about online charity scams. I earmarked everything, 100% of the proceeds, for Hurricane Katrina aid, and raised over $5,000. It was grand.


And then the fine print kicked in.

First, my buyers’ payments for their auctions started showing up in my personal PayPal account, rather than going to the charity I’d elected. In using PayPal, an eBay company, I had thought, rather naturally I think, that my buyers’ payments through PayPal would go directly to the Red Cross (which makes lots of sense), or maybe Mission Fish. So I was stunned when the payments started showing up in my personal account. And I’m sure that my buyers never imagined that I would be the one receiving their donated payments.

Then I got email from Mission Fish telling me to transfer those payment to them. Not to the Red Cross. Not only were my buyers’ payments not going directly to the Red Cross, as I’m sure they’d assumed, but they weren’t even going from me to the Red Cross, but rather through a third party (and how long do you think Mission Fish holds those payments, hmm? The payover to the charity is far from expedient.)

And just giving the payments to the Red Cross directly instead of through Mission Fish wasn’t an option, because, Mission Fish told me, if I didn’t give them the money within two weeks of my receiving payment from the buyers, they were simply going to charge my credit card on file.

This also meant that my buyers could not deduct the contribution to the charity, as in reality they were not making the contribution to the charity.

But wait, it gets worse.

Their payments were now legally considered taxable income to me. And the payments I was now being required to make to the charity on behalf of my buyers – well, sure, those now became my charitable contribution (rather than my buyers’), but the general limit on how much in charitable deductions you are allowed to declare on your taxes is 20%. So the more successful you are at selling through Giving Works, the more you are screwing yourself, as each of those auctions count as income to you. In fact, it’s quite possible if you are very successful with your charity auctions to “donate” more to charity than you even earn. And you’ll be taxed on all but 20% of that “donated” amount.

Oh, and let’s not forget the amount which PayPal (remember, an eBay company) took for themselves, because for every $500.00 of those donations which came into my PayPal account from my buyers, PayPal skimmed a bit over $15.00 right off the top for merchant fees. Yes, you read that right. They took $15.00 out of a donation to charity. Now, I am a very satisfied PayPal merchant, and have no problem paying merchant fees for things which I actually – you know – sell, and for which I get – you know – paid. But in this case, with 100% of the winning bid going to charity, and %3 going to PayPal for merchant fees, well, you do the math.

And we aren’t even done. Because to add insult to injury, I received a bill from eBay for $135.00 for the fees for those charity listings. Because guess what. When they say they are going to donate the fees, they mean “we are going to take those fees from you, and give them to the charity”. Not, as I’d imagined, “we’re going to match, or waive those fees, because you are already donating 100% of your proceeds and you shouldn’t be out of pocket for your charitable efforts,” but “we’re just going to charge you the same amount, and give that money to the charity, which you could have done yourself for a lot less hassle and expense.”

So, again, the more successful you are with your eBay Giving Works charity auctions, the more you are screwing yourself.

In the end, I contacted all of my winning bidders, explained the situation, refunded their payments, cancelled the auctions, and had them make their donations directly to the Red Cross. That way they got the deduction, and when they emailed me their receipts for the donations, they still got what they had bid on.

But I’m still out those $135.00 in auction fees. And showing more than $5,000 in income which I’m going to have to expense and explain away.

And I will never, ever again conduct a charity auction through eBay.

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And what is Mission Fish’s response to all of this? Who knows? Because despite being an organization which should presumably be accountable to you for handling thousands if not millions of dollars which you must trust them to pass on to your elected charity, they provide no way to directly contact them, either by email or telephone. In fact, none of the email addresses (role accounts) which by Internet standards are supposed to be enabled by default (support, info, help, postmaster) work. They offer no email address on their website. They offer no telephone number on their website. The only way to contact this organization, an organization with a fiduciary duty to you, your buyers, and the charities, is through a webform, or a fax number they put up for charities to use to fax their tax-free i.d. to Mission Fish.

I was lucky enough to reach a live person (I suspect perhaps the only real person at Mission Fish) because I thought to use the non-standard role account email address from which my confirmation of my newly-opened Mission Fish account was sent, and this person apparently was monitoring that address. And that person has actually been very nice – in fact they have been the only bright spot in a situation which otherwise surely qualifies as Dante’s 10th Circle.

And I was very careful to notify Mission Fish at that one serendipitously unearthed email address the moment that I cancelled each auction, individually for each and every auction, so that they would be sure to not try to charge my credit card when the donations didn’t show up in their coffers. Then I confirmed with the one live human that they had received the cancellation notices, as I’d not heard back from them, and that person confirmed that yes, each auction showed as cancelled.

Guess what showed up in my inbox this evening?:

Dear Anne P Mitchell:

Our system could not process your MasterCard credit card with the last four digits as XXXX for payment on your eBay Giving Works listings. It is probably nothing to worry about, but we need you to finish this one last step by completing your payment at

There are several possible reasons why we could not process your payment(s):
– Your credit card might have reached its limit.
– The card on file with MissionFish might have expired.
– The card number in your My MissionFish account might have been mistyped.
– There could be a system problem with the bank.

As a safety precaution, you will not be able to list new charity items until this payment has been processed. Don’t wait! Come pay now at

Here are the details of the listing(s) you were attempting to pay:

Listing 1:
Final bid: $51.00
Quantity sold: 1
Donation percent: 100%
Donation due: $51.00
( Remember, there is a $10 minimum donation for every eBay Giving Works item sold )

Listing 2:
Final bid: $46.00
Quantity sold: 1
Donation percent: 100%
Donation due: $46.00
( Remember, there is a $10 minimum donation for every eBay Giving Works item sold )

Listing 3:
Final bid: $51.00
Quantity sold: 1
Donation percent: 100%
Donation due: $51.00
( Remember, there is a $10 minimum donation for every eBay Giving Works item sold )

Listing 4:
Final bid: $4490.00
Quantity sold: 1
Donation percent: 100%
Donation due: $4490.00
( Remember, there is a $10 minimum donation for every eBay Giving Works item sold )

Listing 5:
Final bid: $51.50
Quantity sold: 1
Donation percent: 100%
Donation due: $51.50
( Remember, there is a $10 minimum donation for every eBay Giving Works item sold )

Listing 6:
Final bid: $28.00
Quantity sold: 1
Donation percent: 100%
Donation due: $28.00
( Remember, there is a $10 minimum donation for every eBay Giving Works item sold )

Listing 7:
Final bid: $130.00
Quantity sold: 1
Donation percent: 100%
Donation due: $130.00
( Remember, there is a $10 minimum donation for every eBay Giving Works item sold )

Listing 8:
Final bid: $521.00
Quantity sold: 1
Donation percent: 100%
Donation due: $521.00
( Remember, there is a $10 minimum donation for every eBay Giving Works item sold )

Listing 9:
Final bid: $86.00
Quantity sold: 1
Donation percent: 100%
Donation due: $86.00
( Remember, there is a $10 minimum donation for every eBay Giving Works item sold )

Total: ¤5,454.50

If you have any questions about your payment, contact us right away at

Your friends at MissionFish

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This e-mail is from a system address that can’t receive responses.



I think that speaks for itself.

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20 Replies to “The Screwing of the Good Samaritan – The Problems with eBay’s Giving Works and MissionFish”

  1. I wish I thought to check this out before I did this. I trusted eBay not to let a scam like this happen.

  2. Thankfully, I’m a naturally cynical person. Yea, I’ve always been suspicious as to who gets a lot of the proceeds. I was worried that 100% went to the charity.

  3. Thank you for the information. I was thinking of donating through ebay for the purpose of drawing attention to my auction. I am rethinking this plan now.

  4. Thank you for the informative article. You’ve confirmed what I’ve been reading between the lines. I wanted to list a portion of my auctions to support World Vision who takes very little of their donations to run their organization. It makes me mad to think that MissionFish takes 20% of my donations that could be used to save lives

  5. I agree MissionFish is a scam. I have a 501c3 dog rescue and a seller sold an item with the benefit to my charity. Despite the fact that his buyer paid via paypal immediately, paypal held the funds for 10 days THEN MissionFish took the funds and is holding them for 30 more days, on top of taking almost $100 of a $650 item. It’s a rip-off. Don’t do it; donate directly. Between the fees and the time delay, it costs the life of one animal we otherwise could have saved.

  6. Thanks for your well thought out article! You spent a great deal of time attempting to help the rest of us, like me, pull our heads out of the sand. You provided us with your first-hand account so that we can move away from being part of the problem and become part of the solution! Thanks! When I find myself asking “Why?” in relation to why businesses or just large groups of people behave the way they do, 90% of the time the very best, bottom-line answer is “FOLLOW THE MONEY”. God bless anyone who attempts to help others. But, find a charity in your own community that you like what they are doing, ask to see their paperwork showing what percentage of their donations goes directly to serving the community, ask to see their wish list, and donate THINGS rather than money (same tax writeoff). The closer you are to the direct recipient of your donation (fewer middlemen), the more control you have in knowing that your donation is working in the way that you wish. Always count the number of middlemen between your money and the recipient. The Colston Law of Donations says, “THE HIGHER THE NUMBER OF MIDDLEMEN, THE LOWER THE AMOUNT OF MONEY FOR THE RECIPIENT.” And remember, 90% of the time, if you find yourself in a complicated situation asking asking “WHY, WHY, WHY?” then tell yourself to “FOLLOW THE MONEY!” I hope everyone has a super lovely holiday!

  7. It seems to me, people really don’t understand how charities really work. There is not ever a way 100% of their donated dollars ever go to the use they are earmarking for. Unless you give it directly to a person to use it personally, and you don’t get a tax write off for that, and the person has to pay taxes on a gift.

  8. To Ms. Smith: I don’t know about your income level taxes, but for as long as I can remember THERE HAS BEEN A CAP ON the dollar amount of charitable deductions, and on the tax return of everyone I know that makes them. I have never sold, only bought from ebay sellers, and I feel protective of mine. I’ll be making my donations directly in the future vs. through ebay.

  9. Wow, guess I should have did some research prior to putting that little ribbon on my listings. {The table I refer to below can be found using the URL above. Look for About Seller Donations and scroll down}

    Quick facts about what MissionFish gives to charities:

    If the item sell between $200-$999.99, this is how your donation breaks downs, 20% of the initial $49.99 donated ($10) + 15% of the initial $50-$199.99 donated ($32.50) + 10% of remaining donation.

    So if your item sells for $500, expect about $72.50 to stay with MissionFish, which is roughly 14.5%.

    The charity I give to, is near my house. I could have taken the money directly to them. Instead… Any who, you live and you learn, Happy Holidays. 2010 is going to be better for us all.

  10. WOW! Just read this. I just started selling on Ebay and saw the Mission Fish charity option — what struck me was that Mission Fish takes a 20% cut of the total donation! To my eyes that’s just insane! I could understand 3% or maybe 5% but to process payments on behalf of charities they steal, er collect 20%? Could you imagine if credit card processors took that much? It’s simply outrageous and that e-Bay would condone this and help market it is disgraceful.

    I was really looking forward to doing this and donating, but on a $30 sale to donate $5 minimum, then know that the charity only gets $4 of it, it’s not worth it. I’ll just mail a charity some money.

    EBay, shame on you!

  11. I also object to the amount of fees Missionfish charges. I think it’s a bit high. But let’s address the other items.

    1. Missionfish makes it clear that the seller gets the tax write off, not the buyer. If the seller misunderstood, that’s not Missionfish’s fault.
    2. The charities, such as the Red Cross, must like this system because they sign up for it. They’re getting money.
    3. When you have a charitable deduction, you deduct 100% of it on your return. This will result in a reduction of taxes based on your tax rate, such as 20%. Yes, a donation of $100 will get you $20 off if you are in the 20% tax bracket. To say that you only get 20% off is misleading and incorrect.
    4. Ebay charges you full price for your listing and selling fees, then refunds you a percentage about 1 month later. They do not donate that money to the charity. Seller is confused.

    I have used Missionfish successfully for years. It has had its bugs, absolutely. But I like selling things for charity, and I like the tax writeoff. I have put my Missionfish work on hold because of the high fees, however.
    Here’s one big advantage to selling using Missionfish. If I sell something for $100, I get a $100 CASH donation to my favorite charity. If I have an item worth $100, I can donate it directly to the charity, but they probably don’t want it. I can donate it to a thrift store, and take a value of $100 on it, but the IRS might argue that it wasn’t worth $100. Cash donations are not arguable.
    Hope this helps you all out there.

  12. I’m shocked that eBay and Paypal are peddling such an outrageous program under the cover of a “giving” program. I suppose I shouldn’t be as so many fundraisers take so much of the cause’s donation to administrate their own business, but for these to billion dollar company’s to be involved in such a scam is very unfortunate.

  13. Oh, come on Auntie. All you had to do was run a whois search to get all the contact info.

    His name is Steve Goins. He’s at the Points of Light Foundation,1400 I Street NW, Suite 800, Washington DC 20005. Telephone # 202-729-8112.

    Full Whois Results:
    Domain ID:D21258939-LROR
    Created On:03-Mar-2000 15:24:07 UTC
    Last Updated On:23-Oct-2004 00:13:53 UTC
    Expiration Date:03-Mar-2007 15:24:06 UTC
    Sponsoring Registrar:Network Solutions LLC (R63-LROR)
    Registrant ID:21389055-NSI
    Registrant Name:Steve ContactMiddleName Goins
    Registrant Organization:Points of Light Foundation
    Registrant Street1:1400 I Street N.W.
    Registrant Street2:Suite 800
    Registrant Street3:
    Registrant City:Washington
    Registrant State/Province:DC
    Registrant Postal Code:20005
    Registrant Country:US
    Registrant Phone:+1.2027298112
    Registrant Phone Ext.:
    Registrant FAX:+1.2027293225
    Registrant FAX Ext.:
    Registrant Email:Whois Privacy and Spam Prevention by Whois Source
    Admin ID:21389055-NSI
    Admin Name:Steve ContactMiddleName Goins
    Admin Organization:Points of Light Foundation
    Admin Street1:1400 I Street N.W.
    Admin Street2:Suite 800
    Admin Street3:
    Admin City:Washington
    Admin State/Province:DC
    Admin Postal Code:20005
    Admin Country:US
    Admin Phone:+1.2027298112
    Admin Phone Ext.:
    Admin FAX:+1.2027293225
    Admin FAX Ext.:
    Admin Email:Whois Privacy and Spam Prevention by Whois Source
    Tech ID:20865358-NSI
    Tech Name:MissionFish
    Tech Organization:MissionFish
    Tech Street1:1400 I Street, NW Ste 800
    Tech Street2:
    Tech Street3:
    Tech City:Washington
    Tech State/Province:DC
    Tech Postal Code:20005
    Tech Country:US
    Tech Phone:+1.2027298276
    Tech Phone Ext.:
    Tech FAX:
    Tech FAX Ext.:
    Tech Email:Whois Privacy and Spam Prevention by Whois Source

  14. The home page of MissionFish clearly states that it is the SELLER who will be making the donation: “MissionFish collects the donation from the seller, pays the nonprofit and provides a tax receipt.”

  15. WOW! This sounds like a great, big con! Do you have any legal recourse? Thanks for the warning Aunty. I was planning to augment my contributions using this method. Now I’m going to limit my contributions to AmeriCares, which has, unlike the Red Cross, very low overhead.

  16. Ran into the same problem this week with 2.1 regarding taxes, donations etc… – shows that there are so many small but very important systemic failures that need to be addressed – maybe this can be a part of the discussion on Recovery2

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