You Have Earned No Stars

In my last post, I made a flippant comment about the ease of giving to a single dedicated cause. It's something that I now want to dig into a little deeper. In reference to giving to a specific cause, I wrote: “When the concern is, say, helping people deal with Alzheimer’s, the source seems clear. You give money to a group that does research toward a cure, or helps people in the advanced state of the disease.”

But almost immediately on posting that entry, I stumbled on this story from the deep archives of the Internet, about just how complicated a gift like that can be.

One always wants to believe that they are giving their hard earned cash to a place that will do the most good. This, combined with the mentioned theme of the recession and tightening belts across the board, means that each dollar that you give really does need to be maximized. How shocking, then to read about the big names and the sheer number of nonprofits that have terrible charitable giving ratings. When you look at the American Heart Disease Prevention Foundation, and see that 0% of their budget went toward researching heart disease in 1996, you have to ask: how are they even allowed to keep their nonprofit status? (the answer: they didn’t)

I freely acknowledge that the article I linked above is a boogieman from more than ten years ago. The organizations that are listed there may either no longer exist, or may have dramatically changed their work. The Alzheimer's Association, for example, now appears to spend up about 75% of its budget on the programs and services it exists to deliver, according to Charity Navigator. And there is every reason to believe that the transparency movement of the last few years, especially online, has overhauled the sort of nasty surprises that the article highlights. Charity Navigator or GuideStar can tell you everything you might want to know about how a nonprofit spends your money, and they are both remarkably easy to use.

Yet the fact remains: after being so loose with my claims of the ease of giving to medical causes, I would be remiss if I didn’t also remind everyone to please check to make sure the foundations you are checking out are who they say they are. And the fact remains that many charities still exist that Charity Navigator ranks with No Stars, meaning they are barely accomplishing anything with their stated goals. Nothing is more disheartening then discovering, after the fact, that you spent more of your charitable dollars on mass Christmas mailings than you did on actual cancer research, and nothing is worse in a down economy than donors who have lost the desire to donate again.

Alan Smith

Posted at 1:00 AM, Jan 20, 2009 in Nonprofit Management | Performance Measurement | Philanthropic Strategy | Permalink | Comment

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