Let’s say I handed you a $100 bill and the following list of charities. If I asked you to pick one to give the money to, which one would you choose?
American Association of the Deaf-Blind
National Veterans Services Fund
Children’s Wish Foundation International
Cure Alzheimer’s Fund
Breast Cancer Relief Foundation
Now before you make your choice, consider this: four of these charities are considered to be among the absolute worst charities in America. These charities are shams designed to line the pockets of unscrupulous monsters who prey upon the charitable intent of others. They raise millions of dollars and blow it all on large executive salaries and lavish fundraisers designed to be self-perpetuating. No meaningful progress is made toward their charitable aim. Each spent less than 3% of the millions it raised on direct cash aid toward the causes they purport to maintain.
… So that’s four of them. One received a perfect score from charity watchdogs.
Look closely at the list again. Really scrutinize those names. Are you confident that you’ve spotted the diamond among the turds? Are you sure your $100 is going to be well spent?
Giving is great, but you must do it smaht, kehd
The answer, if you’re still curious, was the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund. Yeah, the one whose url is curealz.org, who knew? If you gave your hypothetical money to anybody else, you just made a non-hypothetical monster-man hypothetically richer. I’m not even going to link to their sites because I don’t want to give them traffic of any kind.
We Bitches are trying to reach a very specific audience of people who are cheap yet virtuous. Like a SJW version of Fred Murtz: pants hoisted to the fourth chakra, gnashing their teeth, trying to figure out which of the Syrian refugee children they host keeps turning the thermostat up.
We wholeheartedly endorse charitable donations, even if (and possibly especially if) you are on a tight budget. The further you move yourself outside of the poverty danger zone, the greater your responsibility to help those who are still there. Donating to a worthy charity is never a bad idea—but the key word there is “worthy.”
Here are two questions to explore before you open your coin purse and a gnat comically buzzes out.
How do awesome charities spend your money?
Charities generally put their money in three buckets, and the ratio of those buckets will tell you a lot about whether they are trustworthy or not.
Fundraising includes things like hosting a party, procuring giveaways for raffles or auctions, sending out emails and direct mail campaigns, or even buying ad space. Ideally, a small amount of money spent fundraising will net a very large return in donations. Administrative costs pertain to things like paying employees and renting office space. Wages should be competitive, not lavish. Finally, the program cost is the money spent on actually doing whatever it is that the charity exists to do: buying livestock for impoverished farmers or running a shelter for abused women or whatever.
(Yo this is unrelated but you may notice a vast difference in graphical quality between Piggy’s posts and mine. That’s because I am a professional artist and Piggy is a professional writer. Her articles have fewer unnecessary commas and rely less on the passive voice. I actually planned on giving you the full MS Paint Experience but I actually found that I… couldn’t? It seems I have lost the skill. I used to be such an artiste with that spray paint tool… but as Tommy Lee Jones said in the greatest movie ever made, The Fugitive, “Don’t let ’em give you any shit about yer ponytail.” What was I saying?)
How do shitty charities spend your money?
Some charities are little more than scams. They sic highly-paid telemarketing companies on old folks with landlines and talk them into donating to a charity with a sappy name and a snappy mission statement. But the marketers get to keep a substantial portion of what they raise as a finder’s fee style of commission, creating an endless cycle of very lucrative begging.
Meanwhile the CEO may help him or herself to a few million dollars in passive salary.
(Yeah this graphic is crying out for a touch of that sweet spray paint. Im srsly sry i failed u guise.)
In cases like this, the charity isn’t run like a charity. It’s run like a fuck station. It’s technically legal, but it’s deeply unethical. It continues to happen because people don’t research charities before consenting to donate. Fortunately, for every thousand well-intentioned people, there are only one or two such gross-os. The reason that so few people do it is because charities must be transparent with many of their finances. This information is out there for anyone to see. So if someone wants to misbehave, they have to be cartoonishly villainous enough to do so publicly.
Look ’em up
So how do you determine where a charity falls on this awesome <———> shitty spectrum? Good news. Someone has already done all of that work for you.
Charity Navigator is a truly awesome tool. They aggregate financial information on charities and rate them based on a number of complex financial metrics, such as executive compensation, program growth, transparency of financial information, adherence to donor privacy policies, and other markers of a serious, legally-compliant charity. They then issue a rating of zero to four stars.
Additionally, they have a ton of simple, free guides available to help you spend your money wisely, all of them much better than this article that you’re reading right now. They help sort through “hot topics” donation avenues. If a sudden earthquake or flood moves you to send money, don’t hop onto the first shady GoFundMe that crosses your Facebook feed; check Charity Navigator for recommendations first.