Con­script­ing con­tri­bu­tions — at a cost

It’s wise to check out or­ga­ni­za­tions be­fore do­nat­ing

The Washington Times Daily - - Opinion - By Rick Ber­man

Who is Joseph Kony? Thanks to a 30minute Youtube video that went vi­ral, 78 mil­lion peo­ple (as of this writ­ing) re­cently learned that he’s the leader of the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army in Uganda and is an in­ter­na­tion­ally wanted man for his role in child-sol­dier con­scrip­tion. In other words, he’s not a nice fel­low.

Un­for­tu­nately, through this video, Amer­i­cans also are learn­ing a hard les­son about char­i­ta­ble fundrais­ing.

The non­profit group that made the film, In­vis­i­ble Chil­dren, ap­par­ently doesn’t do much hands-on work in Uganda. Ac­cord­ing to the group, about two-thirds of its bud­get goes to over­head and “aware­ness” pro­grams, and the group is “not an aid or­ga­ni­za­tion.” Also, Kony’s in­flu­ence is dwin­dling al­ready — he isn’t even in Uganda any­more and has just a few hun­dred sol­diers. Some of the film footage was shot years ago, and some pol­i­cy­mak­ers listed as “tar­gets” (such as Ge­orge W. Bush) aren’t even in of­fice any­more.

But if you give In­vis­i­ble Chil­dren $30, it will send you an “ac­tion kit,” com­plete with two bracelets. You’ll be an “ad­vo­cate of awe­some,” but it’s un­clear what else. De­tails, de­tails.

It’s not as ap­peal­ing af­ter the clever mar­ket­ing is cut apart by the facts. Un­for­tu­nately, it’s a fundrais­ing for­mula used — re­ally, abused — by more char­i­ties than we’d hope to think. Take one well-known group, the Hu­mane So­ci­ety of the United States (HSUS). More than 70 per­cent of Amer­i­cans, ac­cord­ing to public polling, think HSUS is an um­brella group for pet shel­ters, and a sim­i­lar per­cent­age think HSUS spends most of its money on pet shel­ters.

Un­for­tu­nately, this could hardly be fur­ther from re­al­ity. De­spite its name, HSUS isn’t af­fil­i­ated with any lo­cal hu­mane so­ci­eties or pet shel­ters. Ac­cord­ing to its tax re­turns, only 1 per­cent of the money HSUS raises is shared with lo­cal pet shel­ters.

In­stead, it spends tens of mil­lions on over­head (di­rect mail, pen­sion plans and hefty salary costs). The money it does spend on pro­grams — as lit­tle as 51 per­cent of its bud­get, ac­cord­ing to the Amer­i­can In­sti­tute of Phi­lan­thropy — goes to neb­u­lous “aware­ness” cam­paigns and also to push an an­i­mal rights, anti-meat agenda sim­i­lar to that of PETA (Peo­ple for the Eth­i­cal Treat­ment of An­i­mals). Mean­while, mil­lions of an­i­mals are put down in lo­cal shel­ters ev­ery year in part be­cause of in­ad­e­quate fund­ing.

It’s no sur­prise that more than 150 peo­ple re­cently filed Fed­eral Trade Com­mis­sion com­plaints against HSUS.

Un­for­tu­nately, ques­tion­able spend­ing crosses many more fields. A “60 Min­utes” in­ves­ti­ga­tion last year also ex­posed an­other char­ity, the Cen­tral Asia In­sti­tute, which sup­pos­edly built schools in coun­tries such as Pak­istan.

The prob­lem? “60 Min­utes” dis­cov­ered that less than half of the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s spend­ing went to­ward con­struct­ing and fund­ing schools. It also couldn’t find ev­i­dence that some of the schools sup­pos­edly built even ex­isted. Mean­while, the in­sti­tute had seven-fig­ure ex­penses for its founder’s book tour, which did not ben­e­fit the char­ity with in­come.

Other ex­am­ples abound. The Amer­i­can In­sti­tute of Phi­lan­thropy, which helped ex­pose the Cen­tral Asia In­sti­tute, re­ported in its lat­est char­ity guide that nearly half the vet­er­ans/mil­i­tary char­i­ties it rated re­ceived an F grade. The in­sti­tute found that the Dis­abled Vet­er­ans Na­tional Foun­da­tion has ob­scene fundrais­ing costs, need­ing up to 98 cents to raise ev­ery dol­lar.

Can­cer char­i­ties didn’t fare much bet­ter. Some­times the dif­fer­ence is as lit­tle as one word in the name. The Breast Can­cer Re­search Foun­da­tion gets an A+, while the Breast Can­cer Re­lief Foun­da­tion gets an F.

What’s the les­son? Noth­ing new: Re­search be­fore you give, and don’t ac­cept a char­ity’s ads as gospel.

Just as you shouldn’t make an im­pulse buy, an im­pulse do­na­tion isn’t al­ways a wise idea, ei­ther. Oth­er­wise, your con­tri­bu­tion may be lost in a jun­gle.


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