CEO Update on the Keta Legacy Foundation Lawsuit

Late last year, the Keta Legacy Foundation, formerly known as The Mountaineers Foundation, filed a federal lawsuit against The Mountaineers. Read on for an update about what has brought us to this point and the steps we're taking to protect The Mountaineers and the interests and intent of our donors and members.
Tom Vogl Tom Vogl
CEO, The Mountaineers
March 01, 2020

You may have heard recently that Keta Legacy Foundation, formerly known as The Mountaineers Foundation, filed a federal lawsuit against The Mountaineers. We were saddened by Keta’s action in suing us. And we were stunned to learn that Keta was not only demanding that the court allow it to continue to use the name “The Mountaineers” but also that the court prohibit us from using our own name for charitable fund‐raising activities.

We have received many inquiries from members and donors regarding the lawsuit and their confusion over Keta’s use of our name—confusion that we know has resulted in large gifts from donors and their estates being misdirected to Keta. We are doing everything in our power to counteract this confusion and to protect our community. I’m writing to update you about what has brought us to this point and about the steps we’re taking to protect The Mountaineers and the interests and intent of our donors.

WHAT WE’RE DOING TO PROTECT THE MOUNTAINEERS COMMUNITY 

In response to this lawsuit, we are focused on defending The Mountaineers’ name and the interests and needs of our members and donors. For detailed background on our relationship to Keta, I encourage you to read the December 2019 Mountaineer magazine article. It details the history of The Mountaineers Foundation, a nonprofit created in 1968 by Mountaineers members and our board of directors. But in short, The Mountaineers Foundation was formed by our board of directors, and the board specifically granted the Foundation a license to use The Mountaineers’ name. Then, after many years of use of our name, the organization incorporated by us as “The Mountaineers Foundation” changed its operating, but not its official, name to the “Keta Legacy Foundation” and wholly revised its mission. As a result of these changes, and continued instances of donor confusion, we revoked the license we had granted for the use of our name, “The Mountaineers”. Keta nonetheless continues both the official and the public use of the name “The Mountaineers Foundation,” and has been raising funds under the auspices of that name for purposes other than those advocated by The Mountaineers.

We wish litigation were not necessary, but due to Keta’s actions, we no longer have a choice but to defend ourselves. We have responded to Keta’s claims, which we believe to be wholly meritless, and have asserted our own counter‐claims in order to protect our right to our name, to maintain our historical access to the Rhododendron Preserve and Kitsap Forest Theater, and to ensure that donor intent is respected. Simply put, our name has been our name since 1906: we have engaged in charitable and educational activities and fund‐raising using our name since long before 1968, when we authorized and organized the creation of The Mountaineers Foundation as a 501(c)(3) in 1968. 

WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP PROTECT YOURSELF AND YOUR LOVED ONES

The Mountaineers is optimistic that we will prevail in affirming our rights to our name and in ensuring that donors’ gifts go to the entity that each donor intends. In the interim, we understand that there is likely to be confusion and concern among our members and our donors. For instance, we are aware that in December Keta sent a fund‐raising solicitation letter to many members of The Mountaineers, prominently using “The Mountaineers” name. We heard from numerous members that this is confusing to them, and that they are concerned that a future gift or donation might mistakenly be directed to the wrong party rather than to The Mountaineers. Make no mistake: any donations made to Keta or made to “The Mountaineers Foundation” at Keta’s address, will not go to The Mountaineers.

And in fact, donations have already been, or were about to be, mistakenly sent to Keta. Just this past year, for example, a member of The Mountaineers made a generous pledge at our annual gala. When the member’s financial planner issued the check, he accidentally misdirected the funds to Keta because it was still listed in the state corporate records as “The Mountaineers Foundation,” and he did not realize that Keta was using The Mountaineers’ name. And last year, a bequest made by a beloved member of The Mountaineers community, previous board member and volunteer Tab Wilkins, could have mistakenly gone to Keta. For the benefit of our community, Tab’s wife Anita shared her experience with the bequest intended by Tab for The Mountaineers:

When Tab died suddenly, I was grateful we had a thoughtfully planned will in place, including a gift in trust to The Mountaineers which has been such a valued part of Tab’s life. So you can imagine my surprise when I discovered an outdated tax ID for The Mountaineers while updating paperwork for the trust. It is heartbreaking to think a loved one’s intended gift could be misdirected because of this. Double‐check your will and beneficiary forms—and don’t put it off. Everything can change in the blink of an eye.

We firmly believe that when a donor makes a gift intended to support the mission of The Mountaineers, they should not have to wonder if it is going to be used by another entity and for other purposes. An individual’s choice to donate to a cause or to leave a gift to a specific nonprofit as part of the donor’s own legacy is deeply personal and should be respected.

Gifts to The Mountaineers support philanthropic priorities that have been important to our community for generations:

  • Connecting young people with the outdoors, especially those from underserved communities.
  • Developing our volunteer instructors who teach safe and responsible outdoor recreation.
  • Providing scholarships to keep the outdoors accessible for all.
  • Protecting wild places to ensure they can be enjoyed for generations to come. 

It is important to us that your wishes and your legacy are carried out in the way you have imagined them. To that end, if you intend to make any gifts to benefit The Mountaineers, we urge you to carefully direct your gift to us, The Mountaineers, at our address at 7700 Sand Point Way NE, Seattle, WA 98115, and to include our Tax ID #27‐3009280 on your gift. We are a 501(c)(3) organization, so there is no need to direct a gift or bequest to a foundation to obtain potential tax benefits.

We are sincerely grateful for everything you’ve done as a member of The Mountaineers community. I hope this information helps to clear up any confusion and gives you confidence that we are doing everything we can to protect The Mountaineers, our members, our donors, and our mission. Please don’t hesitate to contact me directly (206-521-6009 | tomv@mountaineers.org) if you have any questions.

Mt. Rainier | Photo by Bryce Mann

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Linda Sheehan
Linda Sheehan says:
Mar 01, 2020 06:44 AM

You might want to send out a letter with the correct tax number and the actual legal connection if any between Keta and the Mountaineers. Some folks who would be near the legacy age might incorporate the info better than online. Also I'm still confused as to whether the Mteer Foundation is still a legitimate entity or gone completely. Linda S

Tom Vogl
Tom Vogl says:
Mar 02, 2020 07:24 AM

Hi Linda, our correct tax ID number is 27-3009280. We apologize for that error in the letter. I'd be happy to have a conversation to clear up any questions you might have. Feel free to call me at 206.521.6009. Best regards, Tom

David Sucher
David Sucher says:
Mar 01, 2020 10:36 PM

This story is fascinating and also puzzling.

Les Pennington
Les Pennington says:
Mar 02, 2020 03:56 PM

Seems to me the Mountaineers should be the ones doing the suing.

Michael Raymond
Michael Raymond says:
Apr 16, 2020 02:31 PM

A few questions.

1) Did the Mountaineers Board specifically reserve the right to revoke the use of the words, "The Mountaineers.." from use by the Mountaineers Foundation? 2) What is the documented board action that formed and chartered The Mountaineers Foundation? 3) Did the Mountaineers board charter the Foundation to carry out specific purposes? If so, what were they? 4) Specifically, what purposes have changed as the name "Keta Legacy Foundation" was adopted?, 5) Does the board of the Mountaineers Foundation have the legal and constitutional authority to use a different public name? 6) What specific evidence besides "broad confusion" is there that would point to The Mountaineers having sustained damage specifically attributed to the adoption of a public name and a change in the purpose of "The Foundation"?

I think I get the whole situation. A bunch of years ago "The Mountaineers" was without a tax-exempt vehicle to gather donations for acceptable activities. Not all Mountaineer activities were tax-exempt though, and efforts to create a "Mountaineers" 501(c)(3) was established to fund what wasn't, or couldn't, through the "Foundation" after a period of operational time.

Anyway, if you can answer some of those questions, it might help me, and maybe others, see the conflict between the two organizations.

Thanks!