Ethical scandals aren’t typically something people consider when they go to donate to charities. Often, the general public assumes it’s safe when thinking that a nonprofit does what the name implies, donate a large portion of their proceeds. What if that isn’t true? What if there are charities out there making a huge profit off of the generosity of hard working people like you and me?
It turns out there are over 6,000 charities across America that have chosen to use pay-for-profit companies, like telemarketers, to raise their donations. According to an investigation conducted by the Tampa Bay Times and The Center for Investigative Reporting, these nonprofits adopt popular causes or mimic well-known charity names to fool donors into believing they’re a trustworthy organization. You donate thinking your money is going to a great cause and they rake in the profits with little to no effort.
The Tampa Bay Times found that the 50 worst charities in America devote less than four percent of the donations raised to direct cash aid. According to their video interview with a former employee of Kids Wish Network, an organization that emulates the popular charity, Make a Wish, she would get food donations from restaurants which they would later claim they had paid for with donation money. The Kids Wish Network now claims the title of “Worst Charity in America,” by Cable News Network (CNN).
According to interviews and research conducted by CNN, the organization raises millions of dollars in donations in the guise of helping dying children and their families and instead spends less than three cents per dollar helping kids. In the past decade, the nonprofit has channeled nearly $110 million to its corporate solicitors and gave an additional $4.8 million as pay to either the charity’s founder or his consulting firms. They were even found to have lied about where the funds were going on their taxes.
Well-run charities rely on their staff to raise money from a variety of sources and they spend those funds on easily verifiable activities like running soup kitchens, supporting research, raising awareness or building homes. According to Forbes magazine, it is the nonprofit leaders that set the tone for the entire organization. It is their behavior that that signals what acceptable behavior is when working for these nonprofits. A corrupt leader will have a corrupt organization.
Autism Speaks is an autism advocacy organization in the United States. According to their website, they sponsor autism research and conduct awareness and outreach activities aimed at families, government and the public. They are another nonprofit that has recently garnered media attention for their practices.
Autism Speaks has very little donated money go toward helping autistic people and families, with only one point six percent of their budget going towards “family service” grants. According to Autistic Self Advocacy Network, a nonprofit advocacy organization run by and for individuals on the autism spectrum, Autism Speaks only has two autistic people out of its 26 board members, while 19 out of those 26 represent major corporations such as current or former CEOs of PayPal, Samsung, CBS, Goldman Sachs, White Castle, Viacom, American Express, FXNetworks, Virgin Mobile, SIriusXM and Sprint.
Not only are autistic people not represented fairly on the board, but Autistic Advocacy claims that Autism Speaks fundraising strategies promote fear and stigma against autistic people by portraying autism as mysterious and frightening. These kind of fundraising strategies only increase stigma and create barriers to the inclusion of autistic people in communities.
What can you do when you can’t trust charities to be ethical? There’s a website for that. Charity Navigator has become the nation’s largest and most-utilized evaluator of charities. They have a team of professional analysts who examine nonprofit organizations financial documents. They use a rating system to study the charity’s financial health and their accountability and transparency. They then list the charities from best to worst.
Corvallis. Ore. has some great local charities that are happy to take donations or volunteers such as Heartland Humane Society, our local animal rescue, or A Home in Community, which helps the homeless with housing situations. All local nonprofits can be easily accessed on the great nonprofits website.
April is Autism Awareness Month, if you’re looking to donate to organizations that help people on the autistic spectrum, Autism Advocacy recommends charities such as Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN), Autistic Women and Nonbinary Network (AWN) and Self Advocates Becoming Empowered (SABE). Don’t let fear of unworthy charities get in the way of donating time or money to a worthwhile cause, just take the time to do a little research first.