Saturday, October 21, 2006

Charity Starts at Home

We always have a soft spot in our hearts for people who are less fortunate. While many of us are unable to offer personal assistance, we are nevertheless generous in our offer of financial assistance in the form of monetary donations. Thus was born an industry unto itself: charities. These are not-for-profit organizations staffed full-time by professionals who garner donations and channel them to various foundations that need funds to provide for the poor/handicapped/needy. In most cases, a certain portion of the proceeds is used to sustain this intermediary role. And that proportion can, and does, vary from charity to charity.

Recently, the Tampa Tribute, in their Oct 8, 2006 edition, reported on the results of an "investigation based on public records requests and an analysis of state and federal financial records" under the news heading “Cause for Misgivings. Among the findings are:

  • Of the 20 major charities in Florida that rank the worst in terms of using donations to help the needy, 18 say they help police officers, veterans or other public servants. Those groups - including several based in the Bay area - took in more than $24 million last year and used just $20 of every $100 in donations to help the needy. The majority of the money went to for-profit fundraisers.
  • An efficient charity spends no more than 25 percent of revenue on fundraising and administration, according to federal guidelines.
  • Analysis of the state's database shows that thousands of charities do good work with minimal fundraising or administrative costs - relying instead on volunteers and community-based fundraising, not telemarketing.

All in all, the results can be considered as a mixed bag. While there is certainly cause for misgivings, that should not deter us from continuing the charitable streak in us. Instead, we should be circumspect as statements such as "all proceeds will go to the charity" can mean that only the donations net of administrative and fundraising expenses would trickle down to the recipients.

With the advent of the Internet, similar charity organizations, the click version, have sprung up. I have described one of them, Goodtree, previously in my blog (see here). An anonymous comment to my blog pointed out that perhaps the intention of Goodtree could be less than noble and that its search capability certainly does not qualify as “being having the best of the best serves you” as I have described it.

So I did something that I should have done before I blogged on my supposedly great find: I goggled Goodtree. And look what I found: an evaluation of GoodSearch vs Goodtree.

I don’t know about you but I have already decided to switch to GoodSearch and also pick the charities I would like to contribute to with open eyes from now on. We all have finite resources and should therefore channel them to causes that would result in the loudest bang. My brother put it best: The softness of the heart must be matched with the hardness of the head to avoid pseudo-charities or for profit charities.

The moral of the story is do your due diligence, be it a brick or click outfit, and do not be afraid to change your option when what is claimed does not fit the bill or when a better alternative comes along.

And today's pleasant surprise is made possible by the efforts of the Tampa Tribune, the anonymous commentator, my brother, and Goodsearch.


CY said...

Yeah, you have to research the charities you give to in order to make sure your money isn't going mostly toward administration or some other area. I am actually weary of donating money... I am looking into volunteering (I found for Oregon), because you are contributing so much more that way. Maybe you should include volunteering in a future entry as an alternative to donating money (since I have more time than money right now anyway).

Donating blood is a good way to help people, too, and signing up to be a marrow donor, etc are good as well.

Say Lee said...

You're certainly right that there is more than one way to contribute to the community, and you should choose the mode that suits your circumstances in order to secure the best bang for the buck (or effort in your case).

And yes, volunteering is definitely worth blogging about. Stay tuned.