It’s the holiday season and, in the spirit of giving, many folks are looking to do some good with their extra cash while also scoring a cool last minute tax deduction. Certainly that last bit isn’t the reason for a donation to a worthy cause, but it’s a nice added perk.
Anyhoo, with so many choices out there and so much info flying at you this time of year, it’s easy to just simplify wherever possible. After all, there are bigger things to worry about. With so many meals to prepare, gifts to buy, decorations to hang, and those mischievous elves hopping from shelf to shelf wreaking havoc in your home, who has time to research charitable causes? So, rather than do the most basic independent research to help make informed decisions, why not simply accept misinformation as gospel and perpetuate the inaccuracies until the end of time?
Writing it that way makes it sound insane! And yet here we are, another year coming to a close and we’re once again seeing the same recycled nonsense about nonprofits that wasn’t even correct when it first started circulating years ago. As an employee of one of the nonprofits always rounded up in this lunacy, I have the pleasure of answering the same questions about this stuff hundreds of times every single year. For funsies, sometimes I ponder the kind of work I could be getting done if I wasn’t constantly addressing the same rumors over and over again (things like reciting all the numbers of Pi, and paddleboarding around the world backwards come to mind).
[CHALLENGE: I’m not telling you which nonprofit I work for. Instead, take it as a challenge to do the two clicks worth of research it will take you to figure out on your own. If you can manage that, there is hope for you yet!]
So here’s what I’m gonna do for the American public this holiday season. I’m going to do [most of] the research for you! The graphic below is one of those most commonly thrown at us on a very regular basis, often with aggressive comments like “explain yourself”, “you suck” or “[insert grammatically deficient rant here]”. Below the graphic I’ll go box by box with links to the correct info; links which you yourself could find with just the slightest bit of Googling. Additionally, I will possibly throw in some snark. After all, I want to help you out but I also want to do something that’s fun for me. This has also been done by Snopes, but nobody seems interested in scrolling down on their page.
I don’t know about you, but I’m expecting nothing but a good time! Here we go!!
- American Red Cross – Sorry, wrong CEO, wrong salary, just wrong. Here is some enlightenment from the Red Cross AND Charity Navigator.
- March of Dimes – Doing slightly better than a dime per dollar. Even Charity Navigator says so.
- United Way – This graphic actually manages to name the correct CEO and even low balls his base salary a bit. However, context is key so here’s that. And here is the Charity Navigator report card.
- UNICEF – Only accurate if you cut that salary number by more than half and turn the Rolls Royce into a used 2007 Prius. So close! CNav numbers are impressive as well.
- Goodwill – Not sure who Mark Curran is, but he is certainly not the CEO. The actual CEO is Jim Gibbons who, according to some reports, pulls in a base salary under $500k while some have incentives pushing it north of $1 million. Here’s what Goodwill says they accomplish, and while I can’t seem to find a CNav ranking for the International organization, you can search your local area.
- Salvation Army – They’re good, but even by their own accounting they wouldn’t agree to 96 percent. It’s closer to 82 percent, which is still exceptional. Give.org lists the previous Commissioner’s total annual compensation at just over $131,000 in 2012. Their current Commissioners are David and Barbara Jeffrey.
- American Legion – A fine organization with a fine mission. However, their own annual report states nearly $16 million paid in salaries, which is a little more than zero. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to be currently rated by either the Better Business Bureau or CNav.
- Veterans of Foreign Wars – It costs money to administer programs, plain and simple. Not a single non profit or business of any kind can survive without paying the cost of doing business. VFW is no exception and is clear about it here (note 80 percent) and here (pages 28-29).
- Disabled American Veterans – Another organization with a fine mission of supporting our veterans. Their own annual report identifies more than $45 million for what is commonly referred to “overhead”, otherwise known as the “cost of doing business”. You’ve also got compensation approaching $350,000 for several folks according to their own financials (pg 96).
- Military Order of Purple Hearts – Another great program supporting our military veterans. But even the very first line of their own fact sheet states that $7 million of $9.75 million (71.7%) is spent on service programs. Where does the other $2.75 million go? Without verifiable reporting information, I would only be speculating.
- Vietnam Veterans Association [Vietnam Veterans of America]- President has an annual salary of nearly $75,ooo and there are a few question marks according to the Better Business Bureau.
- Make a Wish Foundation – Absolutely wonderful organization! But once again, NOT free to operate. Their employees do take salaries, and it costs money to administer programs. Check out their IRS 990 form for specifics.
- St Jude Children’s Research Hospital – Detailed financial information available on their own website quickly demonstrates how misleading this 100 percent claim really is. Not all expenses are going to give you the feels, but overall you are contributing to a greater good.
- Ronald McDonald House – A lot of good here as well. BBB Accreditation, four stars from CNav. And look, they also have expenses….like everyone else.
- Lions Club International – Travel and administrative expenses that don’t go directly to the blind or to buy hearing aids? You don’t say.
So that covers that. Here’s another variation of this common misinformation that you may see circulating among a number of others…
This is NOT an attempt to guide you towards one charity over another or influence your decision in any way. ALL of the above-mentioned charities along with countless others provide much needed programs and resources for our communities and are deserving and in need of your support!
I simply encourage everyone to do the simple research necessary to be properly informed. There are plenty of resources available to help, from Charity Navigator, Give.org, and any number of charity watchdog groups. And don’t overlook one of the most detailed pieces of financial info available for nonprofits – their IRS 990 form, which is often available on their website in the interests of transparency.
Ultimately give with your heart. If the mission of an organization speaks to you, and you trust that they will do the good you expect, by all means give your money, your time, your whatever. Just don’t believe everything you read online, and for God’s sake STOP proliferating misinformation. Oh, but of course believe this blog. Definitely believe this blog. D’oh!