Answer Man

Get the truth about charities before giving

Q: I recently received an email that claimed the leaders of some well-known charities receive outrageous salaries while the organization gives little or nothing to the people it’s supposed to help. How true are these claims?

L.K., of Belleville

A: It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

My snail-maibox is stuffed every day with pleas for donations from every charity in the Milky Way, playing on my heartstrings that this is the season to open my wallet for those less fortunate. At the same time, well-intentioned folks are reminding me to give wisely by forwarding a stocking full of emails with claims that often are as bogus as flying reindeer.

The one you asked me to verify is a prime example. This one has been circulating for a decade and is filled with chestnuts that should be roasting on an open fire and not vexing a gazillion friends via a well-meaning but thoughtless click on “forward.” Many of the claims were false when this message started to circulate in 2005, and they’ve only grown staler and more inaccurate as the years have passed. Let’s look at a few of the most egregious:

CLAIM: “It is called the March of Dimes because only a dime for ever dollar is given to the needy.” TRUTH: According to the latest figures from Charity Navigator, nearly 65 cents of every dollar the March of Dimes spends goes to its programs. While this is considerably lower than many charities (for example, the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund spends 93 percent on programs), it is far greater than the dime alleged in the email.

Whether it's for a birthday or Giving Tuesday, giving a gift to someone can feel great. It turns out there's a reason for that, and it starts with your brain.

CLAIM: “CEO and owner Mark Curran profits $2.3 million a year. Goodwill is a very catchy name for his business.” TRUTH: Goodwill Industries International is a not-for-profit organization, not a business. It operates thrift stores (also non-profits) that sell donated items to raise $5 billion per year, 83 percent of which goes toward programs. Besides, Jim Gibbons is now the CEO, and while he is paid a hefty $725,000, it’s a far cry from $2.3 million.

CLAIM:UNICEF CEO Caryl M. Stern receives $1.2 million per year plus ... a Rolls Royce. Less than 5 cents of your donated dollar goes to the cause.” TRUTH: Both Charity Navigator and Forbes rate UNICEF’s efficiency at 91 percent, putting it in the top tier of worthy charities and making the “5 cents” claim sound ludicrous. A recent report found Stern did pull in about a half-million in salary (not 1.2), but in response to an inquiry from www.snopes.com, he said no UNICEF staff member ever has been given use of even a Yugo, much less a Rolls.

CLAIM: ALL contributions to Make-A-Wish, St. Jude Research Hospital and Ronald McDonald Houses go toward helping the sick and needy. TRUTH: While they are worthy charities, some money has to go to administration and fundraising just like every other organization. According to Charity Navigator, the percentage of expense money going to programs is 84 percent for Ronald McDonald, 74 percent for Make-A-Wish America, and 68 percent for St. Jude.

I could go on, but you can get more information at www.snopes.com/politics/business/charities.asp. So, I’ll leave you with two pieces of advice. First, yes, it is wise to vet charities before giving, but do it on a reputable website, not through forwarded emails. For starters, try www.charitynavigator.org, www.guidestar.org and the Better Business Bureau’s www.give.org. They provide all kinds of facts and figures to decide how wisely charities use your donations.

Second, as I’ve begged in this column for years, please either check out emails before forwarding them or, if you don’t know how, simply hit the delete key — particularly those that urge you to “Please share this with everyone you can.” Trust me, you’ll be giving your friends and family an extra merry Christmas and happy new year.

Q: I have long been a supporter of the Disabled American Veterans. Years ago, they sent out small reproductions of our license plates for keychains, and we always bought them. They are still doing good work, but now the current group seems to be the Wounded Warrior Project. While I guess they do good work also, is this hurting the DAV or just helping our vets even more. I just am not prosperous enough to support them all and wondered whether one is more worthy than the other with the things that are happening now.

E.H., of O’Fallon

A: Did you ever wonder whether, like some governmental bodies, charities might do even more good works if they consolidated? Instead of, say, dozens of cancer or veterans groups each spending money on salaries and fundraising, a Universal Cancer Society could spend all of those funds on research, treatments and other help. But I suppose most every group has its special niche, so that would never fly.

In your case, you’ll have to decide which group’s goals are more in line with the vets you want to help. Remember that while the DAV goes to bat for all disabled veterans, the Wounded Warrior Project specifically targets those who suffered a physical or mental injury or illness during service on or after Sept. 11, 2001. The group points out that for every soldier killed in the Middle East conflicts, seven come back wounded, far more than the 1.7 in World Wars I and II.

In fairness, both charities are accredited by the BBB and both boast similar financial numbers. According to their most recent reports, the DAV spends 4 percent on administration, 19 percent on fundraising and 77 percent on its programs; the Wounded Warrior’s numbers are 5, 14 and 81. During the most recent year, Wounded Warriors collected $315 million in monetary contributions compared to $115 million for the 94-year-old DAV.

Perhaps the best thing might be to read the groups’ most recent annual reports, which you can download at www.woundedwarriorproject.org/media/941510/2013-2014_annual_report.pdf and www.dav.org/wp-content/uploads/AnnualReport2014.pdf. Or, split the difference by giving half of your donation to each.

Today’s trivia

How much would it cost to buy a new gondola in Venice?

Answer to Sunday’s trivia: Founded in 1979, the Quilters Hall of Fame is in the historic Marie Webster House in Marion, Ind. Currently the hall has 45 inductees, including 2015 honoree Mimi Dietrich, a well-known quilting teacher and author.

Roger Schlueter: 618-239-2465, @RogerAnswer

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