In 2014, Americans donated an estimated $350 billion to charities. A generous country we are, but how much of those funds actually benefit those in need? You might not want to know. There are good charities. There are bad charities. And there are the worst charities.
America’s “worst” charities have gained their titles by how much they raise in donations for their cause—and how little of that money goes towards the same cause. As these deceptive organizations ask you for your financial support, many lie about where or to whom that money is alloted, sometimes paying themselves “multiple salaries” and “consulting fees.” One cancer charity paid the company president's son nearly $18 million over eight years, to solicit donations. The Tampa Bay Times reports:
Some nonprofits are little more than fronts for fundraising companies, which bankroll their startup costs, lock them into exclusive contracts at exorbitant rates and even drive the charities into debt.
Bogus charities often use accounting tricks that allow them to legally squeak by. Not only do they deceive the public, they are also taking money away from reputable charities that make a true difference in the lives of many. One very large dishonorable charity in Florida, called the Kids Wish Network, has taken the #1 spot for “America’s Worst Charity.” The Tampa Bay Times adds:
Every year, Kids Wish Network raises millions of dollars in donations in the name of dying children and their families. Every year, it spends less than 3 cents on the dollar helping kids. Most of the rest gets diverted to enrich the charity's operators and the for-profit companies Kids Wish hires to drum up donations.
Below is a descending list (#1 being the worst) of America’s Worst Charities, last updated in December of 2014. Sadly, not much has changed since the report was created in 2013. The majority of these charities continue to mislead. They are ranked first by how much each charity took from donors and paid solicitors, and then how much of the total donations raised was paid to their cause. Some of the figures are astounding.
||Total raised by solicitors
||Paid to solicitors
||% spent on direct cash aid
||Kids Wish Network
||Cancer Fund of America
||Children’s Wish Foundation International
||Firefighters Charitable Foundation
||International Union of Police Associations, AFL-CIO
||Breast Cancer Relief Foundation
||American Association of State Troopers
||National Veterans Service Fund
||Children’s Cancer Fund of America
||Children’s Cancer Recovery Foundation
||Project Cure (Bradenton, FL)
||Committee for missing Children
||Youth Development Fund
||Association for Firefighters and Paramedics
||Woman to Woman Cancer Foundation
16. National Caregiving Foundation
17. Operation Lookout National Center for Missing Youth
18. Vietnow National Headquarters
19. National Cancer Coalition
20. Operation Lookout National Center for Missing
21. YouthAmerican Foundation For Disabled Children
22. Heart Support of America
21. Police Protective Fund
23. Veterans Assistance Foundation
24. Children’s Charity Fund
25. The Veterans Fund
For a full interactive list of America’s Worst Charities, visit Tampa Bay Times.
There are thousands of charities out there, perhaps millions. Some may call you for donations and target your demographics for different reasons. Kris Hundley with Tampa Bay Times and Kendall Taggart with The Center for Investigative Reporting, are the creators of America’s Worst Charities. Here are some tips they offer to the public.
Before you give:
The IRS also offers some tips worth mentioning:
Be wary of charities with names that are similar to familiar or nationally known organizations. Some phony charities use names or websites that sound or look like those of respected, legitimate organizations.
Don’t give out personal financial information, such as Social Security numbers or passwords to anyone who solicits a contribution from you. Scam artists may use this information to steal your identity and money. People use credit card numbers to make legitimate donations but please be very careful when you are speaking with someone who called you.
Don’t give or send cash. For security and tax record purposes, contribute by check or credit card or another way that provides documentation of the gift.
To make it easier to decipher the good from the bad, you can find some reputable charity-search websites available to the public online. They are free. So, if you sense something is “off” about a charity, you may want to follow that feeling and take a few minutes to research. Here are five recommended search sites:
Charity Navigator (www.charitynavigator.org)
This website uses a four-star system to rate charities based on their financial performance and accountability. It also shows how the charity ranks compared to others doing similar work.
Find a charity’s latest IRS 990 filing and read personal reviews on this website. Access to recent IRS documents is free with registration.
This site grades about 600 large charities based on the amount spent on programs and the cost to raise money. Though some information is available for free, more in-depth information requires a $50 membership.
Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance (www.bbb.org/...)
The Better Business Bureau rates 1,400 charities based on 20 benchmarks found in the IRS 990 and audit reports. All reports are available for free online, searchable by charity name.
State charity offices (www.nasconet.org/...
The National Association of State Charity Officials lists the government agencies responsible for regulating charities and solicitors.
This article is not meant to dissuade anyone from giving generously. A compassion to help others magnifies the beauty in our human spirit. This is only meant to enable the public to make more informed decisions. These are great lists to keep handy and/or pass along. Being watchful will allow us to direct our donations to where we feel they can do the most good.
Very special thanks to Kendall Taggart with Tampa Bay Times, Kris Hundley with CIR/Center For Investigative Reporting, and Adrienne Hill with NPR.
Do you have a tip about a bad charity? The Tampa Bay Times and The Center for Investigative Reporting will continue to shine a light on bad charities. If you think you've been contacted by a suspect charity, share your story with them.