JLP at All Financial Matters asked us how we turn away charity cold calls. Honestly, it’s never been that hard for me. As a younger person I’ve only been getting these calls for a few years, around the time I starting giving regularly (age 18).
The first way I turn down charity telemarketers is by focusing my giving with one organization (though I occasionally give to a few others I like). It works both locally and internationally, provides microloans, vaccines, health care, women’s business assistance, education…all sorts of things I approve of and would like to further. And it has an impressive ratio of programs vs. administrative spending. It’s been given 4 stars by Charity Navigator (highest rating).
So I turn down other organizations more easily because I know I have someone I can trust to use my money in ways I like. If you don’t have one, consider starting research now.
The second is that I’ve been reading Trent Stamp’s Take and other charity-related resources for a while now. Trent Stamp was, until a few months back, the guy who headed up Charity Navigator, a great resource for finding out how your charity uses the money you give. You’ll have to figure out if the mission and programs are worthwhile, but it’ll help you find out how much of your money really goes to those programs.
Back in November, Trent posted the story of a “charity” for paralyzed veterans which spent over 85% of the money it raised on telemarketing. So if you gave them $20, only $3 of that would go to any real programs. They raised $5 million…which means $750,000 went to programs (and other administration). But $4.25 million went to telemarketing.
Sometimes the charities don’t even exist. Sometimes they’re even trying to steal your credit card information. Not cool.
From my reading, I’d say that a lot of the either fraudulent or just plain irresponsible charities focus on veterans, police and firefighters, and sick kids. They play on peoples patriotism and everyone’s concern for sick kids. So be particularly wary in vetting those before giving to that type.
Knowing all this, it’s very easy for me to say “Thanks, I’ll look into it. Have a good day.” without feeling a qualm. If it sounds interesting, I’ll start looking around. If Charity Navigator doesn’t cover them, it has good tips for doing your own research. They also have tips for dealing with charity telemarketers. You can get form 990s (showing income and spending) for most charities at GuideStar.com. And those forms will help you see what was spent on salaries vs. programs vs. rent vs. other things. The salaries of the top members (CEOs and whatnot) have to be included. But for the bigger ones, Charity Navigator has done your work already.
I think the best thing to do is find a few really good charities and stick with them. If you want to give to a random charity on the spur of the moment, at least make it the spur of the moment + a little research. Be wary of soundalikes. And don’t be afraid to turn down telemarketers. That doesn’t make you a bad person. Look at it this way, you’re giving them more time to call people who might donate money…
I’ll be following this up later with a post about responding to the current crisis in Myanmar. For now, let me just say that giving to any agency that calls you, especially ones which have been founded just for this crisis (as some were for the tsunami and Katrina) is not your best bet for helping people. I need to do some more research on what is. Until then, look into organizations that help people worldwide and have been doing so for years. They probably have the best grasp on how to manage these situations, when to send aid and when to wait for the government to lift its restrictions.