We’ve all been there – watching television, listening to the radio, or surfing the internet, and an advertisement comes on or pops up for a charity or nonprofit. The advertisements are generally made to invoke empathy in the viewer or listener, which in turn might make it more likely for the person to donate to the charity or nonprofit. There’s nothing wrong with charities or nonprofits, and many of them provide money and resources that directly impact their cause or mission, but many charities and nonprofits in the United States have poor performance or trick those who donate into thinking the organization’s reach is much further than it actually is.
The Tampa Bay Times produces a report each year on America’s Worst Charities. Glancing over the list, many things stand out: the most obvious being that most of the charities are geared toward cancer, kids, breasts, or public/civil servants. Other things that stand out are the number of charities that have similar sounding names to some of the largest and most well-known charities in the country, and most depressing is the amount of money raised by the charities compared to the amount the charities actually give out in direct cash aid. These charities target the issues that are most compelling to Americans, and in doing so they know how to pull the tender heartstrings of the American public’s wallets.
Donating to charity is not a bad thing; donating to charity is an excellent way of making a difference in a community or trying to help a cause that is important to you. But here is an honest question – how many Americans will actually look up a charity to which they donate money in order to see its track records and whether the charity or nonprofit organization is in good standing with the community?
Again, charities are not bad; they do incredible things throughout the United States, and they help spread awareness on a number of important causes. But charities shouldn’t be making money off their donations, and they should spend between 60-80% of donations on their actual programs. In an effort not to bash charities but to spread awareness, here are some points on some of America’s most well-known organizations.
We’ve all seen the pink ribbons supporting breast cancer awareness, and we’ve all likely heard of Race for the Cure, an annual 5k run and walk event hosted by Susan G. Komen in almost every state throughout the country. Komen packs a big punch when it comes to breast cancer awareness, but it’s also a mega powerhouse when it comes to fundraising and bringing in money – literally hundreds of millions of dollars annually. Since the late 2000s, Komen’s donations back to breast cancer research have become less every year, and in recent years the foundation came under attack when they cut grant money to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screenings (some say it was due to Planned Parenthood’s reputation for abortions), only to reinstate the grants days later as a response to public backlash and hysteria. The foundation has also received scrutiny for the large sums of money it pays its executives, especially the CEO. Charity Navigator, a website that ranks charities based on financial performance as well as accountability and transparency, ranks the Susan G. Komen foundation a 78.97 out of 100.
If you’re a woman or man with long hair and plans for a cut, most people will ask, “Do you want to donate it?” Donating hair to charities that make wigs for people who have cancer or diseases that inhibit hair growth is an incredibly noble thing to do, and more often than not, the one charity most people will mention is Locks of Love. A charity that states they provide hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children (under age 21), Locks of Love isn’t completely transparent with how the entire process works. The charity receives over 100,000 donations of hair each year and stresses that up to 80% of the hair is not actually usable. In 2011, of the assumed over 100,000 donations it received, the company was only able to produce 317 wigs. If one assumes over 100,000 donations, and accounts for a 20% success rate for the hair being usable, and then takes into account each wig require 10 donations, the company should have produced closer to 2,100 wigs. It is known and admitted that Locks of Love sells hair that it can’t use (which puts money in its pocket), and all recipients of wigs do not receive the wigs for free, as some are required to pay based on a sliding scale, with wigs costing between $3000 and $6500.
Perhaps one of the most popular causes, cancer is rampant throughout the United States, and more and more charities pop up touting their services as fighting for a cure. Cancer Fund of America has been at the top of the Tampa Bay Times‘ list of worst charities for years. Started in 1984, the charity has enriched the lives of its executives while doing next to nothing for those with cancer. The founder, James Reynolds, Sr., took things even further by setting up affiliated charities through his wife and son (the Breast Cancer Society and Children’s Cancer Fund of America), both of which received/raised $187 million over a four year time span and spent almost 90 percent of that money paying for-profit marketers, Reynolds Sr., his wife, son and members of their family. In May of this year a 148-page complaint was filed with the Federal Trade Commission in all 50 states regarding the gross negligence of spending by the charity.
There is nothing wrong with charities – they are established to help a cause. But there is something wrong with the executives of a charity benefiting more from the charity’s revenue than those they are supposedly helping. If you choose to donate to charities, be an informed citizen and do some research before you willingly give your money away. Make sure they are a legitimate charity or nonprofit organization and that they actually benefit the cause they say they do.