Be smart with holiday giving
A little research can make your charitable donations help more.
The election season is fading into the giving season, and now is the time to do a little research on the folks who are going to ask you to contribute to their charity as the holidays approach.
That’s why the savvy donor needs to be on it now. After all, you work hard for your money. Why give it to some group that might spend it on a Fiji vacation?
The internet provides lots of way to judge whether nonprofits are worthy of your donation, but here’s the way we do it at the Ritchie Resort and Sunshine Sanitorium.
Step 1: Snoop. We’re oh-so-nosy when it comes to handing over cash. First, we look for relatively small, local charities because we want the money to help people right here. It’s not that the big, national agencies are bad, but our theory is that when charities are local, they’re more careful with every nickel. Search for free at guidestar.org or foundationcenter.org to read their IRS returns, which are public records. They might be a little difficult to decipher, but near the top, they clearly lay out the basics of revenue and expenses, and they show the salaries of employees paid $100,000 or more farther down in the document. That tells a lot.
Step 2: Never assume. Some of the most disappointing charities are ones that tug the heartstrings for children. See Step 1.
Take, for example, the Central Florida Council of the Boy Scouts of America. It would not make the cut here at the resort. Its staff raised about $5.7 million in 2016 and spent nearly 60 percent of it on salaries of, well, staff. The area
director alone made $191,810. That’s not to mention the $372,000 spent on travel and conferences.
Keep these big numbers in perspective, folks: This is a group that takes children camping in tents in the woods, and parents pay for most of their activities.
Hospital foundations are another one to scrutinize. The Orlando Health Foundation, which “supports strategic priorities” of Orlando Health, in 2016 spent $4.2 million paying staff, including $1.4 million to its top doctor. Five vice presidents — three of them make between $320,000 and $205,000 — flanked the president, who drew $375,000. Love what they’re doing? Then by all means, give. Count me out.
Here, we want our pittance to make a direct difference in lives.
Your local columnist is a fan of and volunteer for Forward Paths, a Leesburgbased charity that helps homeless youth. Before you go, ‘What homeless youth?’ consider that many of them are foster children who aged out of state care with nothing. Kids who one day have to ask to have before getting a snack from the fridge are the next expected to have an apartment and a full-time job, managing a household and paying their bills. How do you think that works out?
Forward Paths Executive Director and founder Denise Burry raised $196,577 in 2017. She paid a contracted grant writer about $7,500. She takes no salary. With the rest, she houses about 20 of the most desperate kids at any given time.
This year, she also procured and gave away seven cars — Lake County isn’t exactly public-transportation friendly — to some of the 60 kids and 29 children in the program. The program offers a food pantry, clothes, education furnishings and, until they get on their feet, payments for car insurance and the like. The youths must get a full-time job or go to school and work a part-time job.
Recently, boyfriends of some of the girls were causing too much drama in an all-girl house, so Burry banned them. One girl flagrantly broke the rule — Burry had been trying and trying to get her to participate wholeheartedly — and Burry ended up giving her 30 days to find new housing. That’s accountability in action. Too many kids willing to help themselves want a safe place to live.
A big trend in getting the most for the dollar are agencies that that do one or two things well, then partner with other agencies for varying services. That’s smart.
Here are a few varying charities to consider:
Two local pet charities, Pet Alliance of Orlando and Pet Rescue by Judy, are generally well-run and thrifty nonprofits that look after cats and dogs.
Nobody makes more than $100,000 in the latter — the total for salaries was $157,000 of the $435,412 raised in 2016. The Sanford-based rescue group reported 25,830 volunteer hours — the equivalent of more than 12 full-time employees — and states it has help 42,765 animals over 20 years.
At the Alliance, only the salary of the veterinarian slightly tops $100,000. That agency runs two shelters, sees 40,000 animals at its clinics and helps 8,000 homeless creatures annually.
United Against Poverty, based in Vero Beach, is a bit larger group with revenues of $7.4 million in 2016, but it operates four locations. The one in Orlando has 27 employees with real-world titles like “Crisis Navigator” and “Success Coach.”
UpOrlando.org — that’s the agency’s s website — is like forwardpaths.org in that its operators understand the complexity of poverty and what it takes to get people out if they’re willing to try. The agency operates a “member grocery” in which its members can buy food and other goods that have been donated for only nominal prices, and they can use food stamps to do it. Brilliant.
One Heart For Women and Children was founded and is operated by a former crack addict, Stephanie Bowman, whose goal is to provide necessities such as food and clothes to families facing hardship. Bowman takes a salary of only $21,600 annually to run the charity, which took in $152,186 in 2016.
Shepherd’s Hope is a faith-based charity that helps people without insurance who are not eligible for government help. The agency works with doctors who volunteer through the state Department of Children and Families to provide free primary and specialist care.
Don’t like those? Try typing in the single word “Orlando” in a guidestar.org search. It bring up 5,318 nonprofits ranging from a group for Catholic lawyer to a nonprofit called Actors, Models and Talent for Christ.
United Against Poverty, which has a branch in Orlando, offers a member grocery for the poor where they can buy items for only a nominal amount with cash or with food stamps.