We are a giving country. In 2015, Americans donated over $378.25 billion to charities. But how much of that money benefits the causes? This article is not to discourage giving. Rather, it’s a tool to help make informed decisions. There are good charities, there are bad charities, and there are the worst charities.
The worst organizations earn their ratings based on how little of their funds go to their causes and how much goes to lavish salaries, solicitors and consulting fees. Two swindling cancer charities run by the same man were recently shut down by the Federal Trade Commission. The government agency states The Cancer Fund of America and Cancer Support Services used funds to live luxurious lifestyles and personal gain.
Tampa Bay Times exposed many unscrupulous charities, via a year-long investigation of thousands of organizations. The worst charities used accounting tricks and loopholes to legally scam and deceive. Many take donations in the name of cancer patients, dying children and homeless veterans. But the real beneficiaries are the charity founders. An infuriating fact about the investigation is that these so-called charities are taking money away from reputable charities with similar names — organizations that actually make a difference in the lives of people in need. One very large dishonorable charity out of Florida called the Kids Wish Network, has taken the #1 spot for “America’s Worst Charity” several years in a row.
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 the fold are 25 of our nation’s worst charities updated in December of 2014. The list is ranked in descending order (#1 being the worst) by how much each charity took from donors and the percentage of donations that went to the causes. The list is disturbing and the figures are astounding. For a complete interactive list of “50 of America’s Worst Charities” visit Tampa Bay Times here. Kris Hundley and Kendall Taggart were the reporters behind the investigation.
||Total raised by solicitors
||Paid to solicitors
||% spent on direct cash aid
||Kids Wish Network
|Cancer Fund of America (dissolved) |$86.8 million
||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
Continuing in descending order: National Caregiving Foundation, Operation Lookout National Center for Missing Youth, Vietnow National Headquarters, National Cancer Coalition, Operation Lookout National Center for Missing, YouthAmerican Foundation For Disabled Children, Heart Support of America, Police Protective Fund, Veterans Assistance Foundation, Children’s Charity Fund and The Veterans Fund.
The authors offer tips for dealing with phone solicitors. They advice donors to ask the caller if he/she is a paid telemarketer, get the exact name and location of the charity and ask where exactly the donation will go. “Don’t let them brush your questions off with generalities. They know the exact percentage.” Ask the solicitors for examples of the charity’s good deeds — or hang up and give directly. Also, if you have a tip about a charity that seems unethical or if you feel you’ve been scammed, you can share your story here. The IRS also offers tips to consider before giving.
- 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 help decipher the good from the bad, there are reputable nonprofit, non partisan, charity-search websites online. Below are two. Charity Navigator is free. If you type the name of a charity into their search boxes you can pull up more data about the charity as well as ratings.
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.
CharityWatch (www.charitywatch.org) 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.
Also listed as charity search engines are Better Business Bureau and Guide Star. As for the Donald J. Trump Foundation, it’s listed in Charity Navigator, but not rated. Here’s why.
On September 13, 2016, it came to the attention of Charity Navigator that Donald J. Trump Foundation is the subject of an investigation by The New York Attorney General's Office, according to an article titled, "New York Attorney General to Investigate Donald Trump's Nonprofit." For this reason, we have issued a Moderate Concern CN Advisory. For more information, please see The New York Times article.
On November 22, 2016, The Washington Post published an article titled, "Trump Foundation admits to violating ban on 'self-dealing,' new filing to IRS shows." For more information, please see The Washington Post article.
The nature of these allegations of illegal activity, improper conduct, or organizational mismanagement are such that Charity Navigator has issued this CN Advisory to provide donors with content that they may find useful when making their giving decisions.
As an aside, there are plenty of reputable and highly rated 4-star charities included on the Charity Navigator site. Here are links to 11 examples:
Acadia Center (Environment)
Action Against Hunger USA (Hunger)
Animal Rescue, Inc. (Animals)
Cancer Support Community (Cancer)
Clinton Foundation (Global Aid/Humanity)
DAV (Disabled American Veterans) Charitable Service Trust (Veterans)
Doctors Without Borders (Health)
International Rescue Committee (Rescue)
Planned Parenthood Federation of America (Women & Mens Reproductive Health)
Save The Children (Children Worldwide)
St. Jude Children Research Hospital (Helping Sick Children/Families)
St. Jude is ranked a bit lower on Charity Navigator, but has a 100% rating for accountability and transparency and is deemed reputable.
Giving to charities and having the compassion to help others is the essence of our human spirit. Knowing our donations are going where we think, only promotes more giving. Please pass the information from this story, or directly from the Tampa Bay Times piece, to help create more awareness and help that which is truly in need, rather than help those who selfishly take advantage of the good in people.
H/t Adrienne Hill/NPR
“While we do our good works let us not forget that the real solution lies in a world in which charity will have become unnecessary.”
― Chinua Achebe, Anthills of the Savannah