Is Hurricane Ian ‘benefit concert’ at Hertz Arena the real deal?

Author: Céline McArthur
Published: Updated:

Just days before the one year anniversary of Hurricane Ian, Christian music performers MercyMe and Matthew West are set to perform at the Hertz Arena. The flyer—posted on the Hertz Arena website—says it’s a benefit concert to support the victims of Hurricane Ian. But how can you be sure the money goes to those who need it? WINK News Investigative Reporter Céline McArthur digs into the fine print of that promise to see where your money is really going.

I got this flyer (without my question in red) from the promoter and host of the live concert here at Hertz Arena. Joe Knopp, a self-described filmmaker and entrepreneur, reached out to me multiple times on LinkedIn, anxious to be a guest on WINK News to talk about the event. Once I began looking into it, I found some big red flags you need to know about before you buy a ticket or make a donation.

The promotional video for the event begins like this:

“MercyMe and Matthew West together in concert for the first time! A benefit supporting the victims of Hurricane Ian!”

Nearly a year after the monster storm, people in Southwest Florida are still struggling to rebuild, so that support can do some good, so you may be wondering: where is that money going and how can I get some?

I asked Knopp. Two weeks passed with no answer.

I read through the website, page by page, line by line, looking for clues.

Under the “Who We Are” section, it says Disaster Relief Foundation is made up of organizations, churches and individuals but doesn’t list which ones.

I also discovered the Disaster Relief Foundation is not a registered charity or nonprofit. Neither is Disaster Relief Benefit Foundation, the name used to headline its corresponding Facebook page.

So, what is this?!?

“I think you’re asking a lot of the right questions,” said Kevin Scally, Chief Relationship Officer for Charity Navigator.

Charity Navigator is a nonprofit evaluator. I asked Scally to weigh in.

“What we’re looking for is really good transparency from the outright as to this is where your money is going, and this is what your money is going to do,” said Scally.

Scally says lacks transparency.

“It definitely doesn’t present as very straightforward,” said Scally.

After two weeks of pressing for an interview, I got Knopp on Zoom to answer my questions. He told me a visit from his home state of Ohio to Fort Myers back in March inspired him to find a way to help.

“I hate to say but a lot of us who are not living in Fort Myers, you kind of forget, you know, the magnitude of the of the effect and devastation that’s still there today,” said Knopp, “so I said, well, you know, we should do something.”

That something: The Sept. 21 MercyMe and Matthew West Hurricane Ian Benefit Concert, sponsored by what’s called Disaster Relief Benefit.

Céline McArthur interviews Joe Knopp.

Céline: “So tell me about Disaster Relief Benefit. What is that?

Knopp: “So that’s to be completely fair, this relief benefit is an organization that we put together at that time, just to have…It didn’t make sense to have Joe Knopp Entertainment putting this event on, really.”

Céline: “So disaster relief benefit is an actual organization? I looked it up and I don’t see a record of it.”

Knopp: “It’s to be honest, I mean, it’s, I’m trying to, I have to talk to my attorney who put together it’s not a 501(C)(3), and it’s not incorporated. So it’s basically I guess, it’s a trademark name that we’re using for the website itself.”

I asked him about the name on his event Facebook page.

Céline: “It’s called Disaster Relief Benefit Foundation. Is that a foundation?”

Knopp: “No, there is not an existing 501(C)(3) foundation for that. So, you saw that? Sorry, you saw that on social media?”

Céline: “It’s on your website.”

Knopp: “You know, part of the issue here is our social media team was looking for, you know, names that were available.”

Knopp says he’s working in concert with the National Christian Foundation, which is a registered 501(c)(3). However, the fine print on the benefit concert website states NCH has full discretion and control of your donations, a red flag for Charity Navigator.

“I will say that it does come off a little bit contradictory to say, hey, monies can be used for this fund, but we also have the discretion on how we utilize it,” said Scally.

According to the Disaster Relief Benefit website, donations go to things like, “the purchase and delivery of desperately needed items such as generators, chainsaws, tarps, rakes, shovels, batteries, food, first aid supplies, basic sanitary needs and clean up supplies.”

Céline: “That sounds like something that was needed a year ago.”

Knopp: “My guess is my social media team took kind of boilerplate information from their sites and added it to ours.”

Knopp: “The goal is to give funds to the existing nonprofits that we’re supporting Fort Myers, we do not plan to have a direct say in how they spend those proceeds, if that makes sense to you.”

Knopp could not provide a list of those nonprofits during our interview.

I asked him how the people of Southwest Florida can be sure the money raised stays in the community to help people devastated by Ian.

“That’s, uh, let me think that through. I think we are working, we are working directly with the regional folks of Southwest Florida, as part of National Christian Foundation,” said Knopp.

Premier Productions, the company staging the concert, claims 100% of net proceeds will go to Disaster Relief Benefit.

On the sponsor page of Knopp’s website, Knopp says payments can be mailed to his personal business address or Bank of America account. Here’s what he said when I asked him to explain.

“The sponsor money and the ticket sales go to my for-profit production company because we had to work with a for-profit company and did not have time to, you know, start a new one specifically for the event,” said Knopp. Joe Knopp, Hurricane Ian “benefit concert” promoter and host

“The sponsor money and the ticket sales go to my for-profit production company because we had to work with a for-profit company and did not have time to, you know, start a new one specifically for the event,” said Knopp.

Base on the information provided, Scally says donors need to beware.

“When you have a crisis is that it really pulls up people’s heartstrings, and they want to take that action and they want to be make the change in the world to make it better,” said Scally. “But unfortunately, while it brings out the best in people, it can also bring out the worst in people where you have bad actors that emerge and unfortunately, take advantage of people.”

After our interview, Knopp sent the names of seven organizations—some not local—that may or may not get any money. He wouldn’t offer any other details. One of those organizations confirmed to me that they are not a beneficiary for this concert.

I reached out to the National Christian Foundation several times. No response.

I reached out to the performers and Hertz Arena. So far, I haven’t heard anything back.

I’m still investigating and will share what I uncover.

You can reach me at

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