Uncharitable Charity

I believe in giving. Whether that be in time, support, money, whatever else, our innate desire to charity is one of humanity’s greatest gifts. I will forever be in awe by the efforts of some people, past, present and future, who work hard to make the world a better place, starting with those who need it the most.

So when we think of volunteering or giving money to charity, it seems like an automatic response to do some good in the world. Plus, the “warm fuzzy” feeling of knowing you made even a small positive impact on others’ lives is enough incentive to give even a couple of extra cents to charity.

Except, although it’s not as widely known as it should be, not all charities are created equal. Not every feel-good organization is actually doing much good. The fact that the discrepancy exists in the first place is beyond frustrating. They are not only manipulating innocent people into funding selfish musings, but they are exploiting those in need as a business slogan. And when in 2014 alone, about $350 billion was donated to charity, we deserve to be informed as to where this money goes.

So what “charities” am I talking about here? What constitutes a bad charity? Well, these people know what they’re doing, that’s for sure. These deceptive organizations ask you for your financial support, many lie about where or to whom that money is allotted, sometimes paying themselves “multiple salaries” and “consulting fees.” Considering oneself a charity is simply a front to disguise greedy fundraising intentions, taking money away from reputable charities that actually make a difference and help others.

When a mere fraction of consumer payment is used as direct cash aid, then we have a clear problem on our hands. And disappointingly, many big names in the non-profit world are among some of the worst offenders.

Not too long ago, news broke that the Wounded Warrior Project fired many of its executive members because about half of donations go toward having extravagant events and bigger paychecks for the board directors. Even former employees, as told by CBS News, saw the ridiculous amount of spending on parties, fraud waste and abuse. This is money advertised as going to recovering veterans injured in war. But for some, living a lavish lifestyle is a higher priority.

Another charity I’ve recently gotten word of suspicious work is another familiar one: Locks of Love. I cannot think of the number of times I’ve heard of classmates and peers cutting off significant inches of hair knowing that it will go toward free wigs for cancer patients. Forbes reported that over $6 million in hair donations to the organization are unaccounted for. Compared to other hair donation organizations, it takes Locks of Love seventeen times as many hair donations to make each hairpiece. And many of the hairpieces are not necessarily free to cancer patients, but they must pay for them from their own pockets.

One more charity I’d really like to mention because even a sorority on my home campus supports it, but they definitely don’t deserve any extra funding. That charity is Autism Speaks. According to Autistic Advocacy, less than 4% of Autism Speaks’s budget goes towards the “Family Service” grants that are the organization’s means of funding services. While 32% of its budget goes toward research, only a small percentage of this research is aimed at improving the quality of life of autistic people. Although Autism Speaks has not prioritized services with a practical impact for families and individuals in its budget, its rates of executive pay are the highest in the autism world, with some salaries exceed $395,000 a year. On top of that corruption, Autism Speaks uses damaging and offensive fundraising tactics which rely on fear, stereotypes and devaluing the lives of people on the autism spectrum.

Enough of the negative. Obviously there are millions of charities out there, so the chances that all of them are entirely good or bad is not realistic. However, it’s important to be aware of where your dollar, essentially your consumer vote, is going. The people are the ones deciding what issues are important and what organizations are at the forefront of those issues. We need to choose the best options possible if we truly want to feel good about charity.

Here are my thoughts on choosing your charity. I would say the best options out there are either choosing local organizations that you can consciously know and see the difference its making in the community. No matter how much I care about world issues and want to help every single person on the planet, some of the most overlooked groups are the ones right next door. Even better, if you have the chance, go out yourself and volunteer for the causes you believe in. You can embody the change you want to see, and the personal and collective benefits from that are astounding.

But if you’re still drawn to the larger national and international charities out there, do your research. Educate yourself on how these organizations divide up the income they receive. Know what they stand for. Learn about their history and the impact they’ve made and are currently making.

It’s easy to slap a charitable name onto a business and entice people in. And that’s when pessimism sneaks into our thoughts, darkening our view of the world and our humanity. But we still want to help others. We still act out of goodness. We still have heart at our core. Now it’s just time to have both our brains and hearts at their peaks to make true progress.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

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