Commentary: before you donate, investigate
by Nikki Kirk
How many times have you donated items to your favorite national charity for to help the needy while getting the tax deduction? I know I have many times. As a consultant and a grant writer, often times I must conduct research on foundation and even nonprofits seeking my assistance. This research consists of reviewing 990's and other financial information to determine how funds are managed, spent, missions, etc. Most times, things are on the up and up. Every now and then, I'll get a few individuals that aren't on the up and up and I'll have to call them on it.
Sometimes in my research I also discover some charities have what in my opinion are less than charitable intentions. In short, they are top heavy (administrative salaries and expenses), with little trickling down to hardworking employees on the ground handling day-to-day operations, and the people they are charged to service.
I recently read a story about such a case on the Nonprofit Quarterly's website titled "The Wages of Sin." The story details how the Goodwill revamped itself to become this huge, profitable money making charity. It's top administrators were compensated so much, and it was so profitable after an investigation, the city decided to revoke it's exemption status. I am all for having a sustainable nonprofit, and fair wages, but at what expense? Donors give to the agency not because they want officials to have six-figure salaries, but because they want to do go. Donors believe in the mission, and all the hype sold to them in the commercials and billboard on the charity's "good deeds."
I personally stopped shopping at the Goodwill long ago once I saw how expensive some of their restore and thrift store items were. I was appalled at how much they would charge for items that were GIVEN to them to help retrain individuals and assist the less fortunate in a variety of ways. Then I started following the money.
I started seeing them apply for all sorts of grants (including large federal grants) that were way out of the scope of their mission which led me to suspect they were being a little greedy. Then I noticed how little they actually partnered and produced in some communities. They were this huge organization, with a huge building, a huge presence, and a huge donor base, yet no one seemed to questions their outputs or their results. They had successfully fleeced the people. At first I was angry. But this is America, where capitalism reigns. Can't be mad at the business people that had come in and made the organization "profitable." But the larger scheme of things............we are watching people who are the top basking in the glow of community ignorance.
As donors, we need to be more vigilant about our donations and our dollars Ask questions, read reports, and follow your gut. If you go to a thrift store, and prices are darn near Walmart of other stores that sell similar merchandise, then you should reconsider patronizing these establishments. Read the Nonprofit Quarterly's article "The Wages of Sin," and feel free to share your thoughts below. And remember, investigate before you donate to local and national charities.
Article Link: https://nonprofitquarterly.org/2017/06/15/wages-nonprofit-sin/
About the Author:
Nikki Kirk has over 12 years of experience in management, grant writing, nonprofit program development, community economic development, and nonprofit management consulting.