Be smart with hol­i­day giv­ing

A lit­tle re­search can make your char­i­ta­ble do­na­tions help more.

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - Lau­ren Ritchie Sen­tinel Colum­nist

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.

Happy brows­ing.

JOE BUR­BANK/OR­LANDO SEN­TINEL

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.

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