There was a fallout at the eBay seller organization called PESA (Professional eBay Sellers Alliance) more than a year ago when the Board surprised members by saying it was not going to pursue non-profit status and would instead distribute shares to some members. So imagine my surprise when I received a press release from the organization calling itself as a "non-profit trade association" more than a year later.
I wrote to PESA Executive Director Jonathan Garriss for clarification. Garriss said that PESA had "planned to convert the non-profit corp to a regular shareholder corp. Because of the mess that it stirred up, and the fact that members only saw conflict problems, we did not change the corp structure."
An email dialog ensued, leaving me with as many questions as when I started.
Garriss pointed me to the "About Us" page on the PESA site. There, it says "PeSA has not applied for 501(c) non-profit status. Our incorporation as a non-profit corporation was established in 2005 and is symbolic of our mission."
He also said, "I think its very important to differentiate between a non-profit corp and a 501c6 IRS organization." Doing some general research, I couldn't find anything that explained the difference, so I asked Jonathan to explain or to put me in touch with PESA's accountant to explain what that meant. Here is his reply:
That seemed to be a resend of the email I responded to a couple of weeks ago. We've discussed this issue at length last year, which you also reported on. The facts are the same as they were a year ago and my previous answer is very detailed about the corporate structure. I'd also refer you to the state corporate regulations for filing a non-profit corporation. I have volunteered alot of time for PESA and I have never billed PESA for my time nor been paid anything except for reimbursing direct expenses I paid on behalf of the organization. I believe that sellers need to work together to change the eBay marketplace for the better, which is one of PESA missions. I'd be glad to discuss how eBay can help its sellers, but an old politics story does not benefit sellers.
In doing some research to figure out the requirements of an organization filing a non-profit in New Hampshire, where Jonathan had previously said PESA had filed as a non-profit corporation, I discovered that the state does not verify the tax status of corporations.
PESA was formed initially as the eBay Elite, though it registered with the state of New Hampshire as "E-Commerce Merchants Alliance Inc." Those records have never even been updated, and there is no organization in the state corporation database known as Professional Ebay Sellers Alliance.
This got me wondering under which name PESA was filing taxes, so I sent an email to Jonathan, "Does PESA file taxes?" Jonathan did not respond.
Does it matter to me if PESA lacks transparency - after all, eBay sellers have a choice in whether they belong to PESA. Well, as editor of an industry publication, I must adhere to AuctionBytes longstanding policy of verifying the non-profit status of an organization that claims it.
Jonathan stated in his last email to me, "I have volunteered alot of time for PESA and I have never billed PESA for my time nor been paid anything except for reimbursing direct expenses I paid on behalf of the organization." However, his own private company owns ECMTA, which markets to PESA members and is piggy-backing on the PESA summits. I find this troublesome and believe it's a conflict of interest to have an executive director of a trade organization promoting his own project to those members. This is particularly true in light of the issues PESA members raised in 2006 about financial, tax and accountability issues at the organization.
I welcome PESA members, the Board and the Executive Director to fill in the gaps, and I hope that this blog entry does not open the door to bashing high-volume PowerSellers in the comments. Rather, I hope it opens a dialog in which more information is shared, which as a writer and publisher, I believe is always a good thing.