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Notes From the Fieldby Martin Weil

June 13, 2013

America’s Worst Charities

The Tampa Bay Times, in conjunction with the Center for Investigative Reporting, has published a Pulitzer-Prize worthy expose of some of the worst charities in the US.  As one who used to work in this field, I find it outrageous that there are organizations with meritorious-sounding names intentionally taking advantage of the public’s goodwill solely for their own personal profit. Furthermore by adopting names that are easy to confuse with more established charities and causes, these practices sow confusion and mistrust amongst donors and hurt contributions to legitimate agencies.

The 50 worst charities in America devote less than 4 percent of donations raised to direct cash aid. Some charities give even less. Over a decade, one diabetes charity raised nearly $14 million and gave about $10,000 to patients. Six spent nothing at all on direct cash aid. …

The 50 worst have raised more than $1 billion in the past 10 years, but only a fraction went to anyone other than the charities’ operators and professional solicitors.

If you are unsure about a charity, I recommend checking them out at Charity WatchGuidestar, or GiveWell among others. A standard metric for measuring the “goodness” of a charity has traditionally been what percentage they spend on direct service (as opposed to overhead and fundraising) and this is one of the major criteria used by these rating agencies.  As I pointed out before in this space, (AIDS Ride founder) Dan Pallotta has a very different view on overhead costs (though not one that would exonerate the criminal behavior at the charities in the TB article), and he presents this in a thought-provoking TED Talk.

Thanks to The Big Picture for the Tampa Bay Times article pointer.

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