How to Raise Charitable Money and Keep It Without Going to Jail
November 26, 2013 1:57 PM   Subscribe

 
Goddammit, they point to GiveWell.
posted by aramaic at 2:08 PM on November 26, 2013 [15 favorites]


They are all frauds. If god existed, there wouldn't be a need for charities.
posted by Renoroc at 2:09 PM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Paywall.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:11 PM on November 26, 2013


This will not GiveWell.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 2:12 PM on November 26, 2013 [5 favorites]


No Paywall.
posted by Mister Bijou at 2:19 PM on November 26, 2013


Givewell, honestly? The abuses she points out are horrific, but sticking the dodgy Givewell in at the end makes me question the real agenda of the writer of the column. Why not recommend Guidestar, or Charity Navigator, or even the United Way?
posted by Malla at 2:25 PM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Mefiwiki on givewell, in case anyone else (like I was) is not up to speed on Mefi's history with Givewell
posted by cnanderson at 2:32 PM on November 26, 2013 [8 favorites]


This reality makes it incredibly easy for me to dismiss unsolicited charity solicitations. I don't give without prior research, period.
posted by nanojath at 2:33 PM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, if you want all of your eleemosynary dollars to go to admin, look no further than United Way.

But yeah, this is pretty link-baity. The U.S. Navy Veterans Association is not at all representative of the NPO sector. They are an outlier.

Lots of charities do great work. Admin % and similar metrics are big ole red herrings. Who do you think does all that charity work? People, that's who! People cost money. Folks who get up in arms about a charity 'keeping' x-amount of dollars usually need to look much closer at the finances to really understand what that even means. Not to say there isn't waste and fraud, but come on, that's unavoidable and is in no way the norm for charities.
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:33 PM on November 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


It seems to be legal, and rarely subject to scrutiny, to run a charity that keeps almost all the donations for itself.

So you're saying if I start a non-profit org called "Somebody Please Think of the Children," pimp it with vehement anti-abortion rhetoric on Glen Beck and Limbaugh's shows, and use some small portion of the donations to assist, say, adoption agencies, then there would be no problem with turning the vast bulk of the money into anonymous donations to Planned Parenthood and NARAL? You're saying that might work, and pass legal muster?

Hmmm.... BRB
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 2:40 PM on November 26, 2013 [29 favorites]


The U.S. Navy Veterans Association is not at all representative of the NPO sector. They are an outlier.

If the article is to be taken at its word, then there is just no way to know this. Even the IRS doesn't seem to know this. How do you?

Givewell, honestly? The abuses she points out are horrific, but sticking the dodgy Givewell in at the end makes me question the real agenda of the writer of the column. Why not recommend Guidestar, or Charity Navigator, or even the United Way?

I'd be interested in finding out what about Givewell is so dodgy (aside from the obvious astroturfing promotion 5 years ago on the blue). And, if their inclusion betrays the "real agenda" of the article's writer, why would referencing Guidestar, Charity Navigator or the United Way not also betray some "real agenda"? I'm genuinely curious.
posted by IvoShandor at 2:40 PM on November 26, 2013


I'll remember this when people suggest taxes shouldn't support the needy, because there are plenty of charities who take up that slack.
posted by absalom at 2:41 PM on November 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


Lots of charities do great work. Admin % and similar metrics are big ole red herrings. Who do you think does all that charity work? People, that's who! People cost money. Folks who get up in arms about a charity 'keeping' x-amount of dollars usually need to look much closer at the finances to really understand what that even means. Not to say there isn't waste and fraud, but come on, that's unavoidable and is in no way the norm for charities.

This is true, but there are decent charities and scammy charities.

As a person who works for a nonprofit which gets 99% of its income from grants, I sometimes yearn for the ease in spending we'd have if we got more money from individuals, because grants will actually make you say what you're gonna DO with all that money before they give it to you. Which means you can't pay your ED a five million dollar salary or locate your offices in the fanciest location available, unless you have a damn good reason. On the other hand, sometimes grantmakers don't like giving you much money for things like "office rent" and "benefits" (or even "an interesting new project we'd love to try that large donors don't currently think is cool enough"). So my extremely prejudiced view is that it's good to donate to smaller nonprofts who get the majority of their support from grantmakers, because 1. a professional charitable giving organization whose only function is to give money to deserving orgs has already evaluated their programs and decided that they're legit and 2. unlike larger, better-funded orgs, they could really use the flexibility that even a small amount of unrestricted money would give them.
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:43 PM on November 26, 2013 [20 favorites]


If the article is to be taken at its word, then there is just no way to know this. Even the IRS doesn't seem to know this. How do you?

The author of this did not do his or her research well. Almost all non-profits with over a million dollars in operating complete an annual (private) audit, required for most continued foundation, corporate and federal funding. Moreover, all NPO 990s are public and available for anyone to read. There are also many many studies every year on non-profits which examine individual organizations as well as the sector as a whole. There is a plethora of information available to anyone about the financial state of charities. It's one of the most transparent sectors that exist. The lack of IRS field audits is hardly remarkable.
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:44 PM on November 26, 2013 [9 favorites]


Was coming here to say what showbiz_liz just said, except she said it better than my tired too-many-end-of-grant-period-report-writing addled brain would be able to say. Glad I previewed.
posted by nubs at 2:46 PM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


So my extremely prejudiced view is that it's good to donate to smaller nonprofts who get the majority of their support from grantmakers, because 1. a professional charitable giving organization has already decided that they're legit and 2. unlike larger, better-funded orgs, they could really use the flexibility that even a small amount of unrestricted money would give them.

This times x 100. If I ever become independently wealthy, as my mother would say, I'm going to set up a grant program to pay for boring admin stuff like "rent" and "office support staff" for nonprofits. Unfortunately, it'd probably be way too competitive because of popularity.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:49 PM on November 26, 2013 [8 favorites]


Almost all non-profits with over a million dollars in operating complete an annual (private) audit, required for most continued foundation, corporate and federal funding.

Gotcha, larger npo's are probably OK, if one checks them out. But stay away from shifty, fly by night's with "veteran" in their name. And don't cross the streams. That would be bad.

At least this was my reading of the gist of what you're saying.
posted by IvoShandor at 2:49 PM on November 26, 2013


So my extremely prejudiced view is that it's good to donate to smaller nonprofts who get the majority of their support from grantmakers, because 1. a professional charitable giving organization has already decided that they're legit and 2. unlike larger, better-funded orgs, they could really use the flexibility that even a small amount of unrestricted money would give them.

I guess I disagree on this, if only because the vast, vast majority of charities are funded primarily by individuals. Only about 10% of charity funding comes from grants and sponsorships. People are the real bread and butter of non-profits, which I think is how it should be. Passionate people are why successful non-profits are successful.

Why I would be hesitant to give to a primarily grant-funded organization is that grant funding is extremely finicky and unpredictable. Grantmakers like to fund new programs, and I would seriously worry about the sustainability of an organization that was mostly grant funded. I would also wonder why they couldn't muster much individual support, which would be somewhat of a red flag for me. It's true that grants rarely cover indirect costs, and I would worry about how they are keeping their lights on.

I'm also not convinced grants are much of a seal of approval. Grants are weird things, and winning them is just as political as getting a major gift.
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:50 PM on November 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


As long as it's not Gladwell.
posted by spitbull at 2:50 PM on November 26, 2013


Bono - 'We don't provide programmes on the ground. We're an advocacy and campaigning organisation.'
posted by unliteral at 3:04 PM on November 26, 2013


I just heard on NPR that although many in Haiti are still living in tents new development is a shiney FIVE (5) STAR Hotel. I wonder who make up the demographic that stays at that hotel?
posted by sammyo at 3:06 PM on November 26, 2013


The whole Givewell affair seems rather quaint now. These days I think most people would just give a "corporations will be corporations" shrug because that kind of deceptive ("viral") marketing has sadly become expected behavior.
posted by Pyry at 3:15 PM on November 26, 2013


I would seriously worry about the sustainability of an organization that was mostly grant funded. I would also wonder why they couldn't muster much individual support, which would be somewhat of a red flag for me.

In our case (and the case of my previous charity), it's a combination of the deeply unsexy nature of our work which is more inspiring to the government of Norway than to Joe $10 Donation; the fact that the people we help are indigent and live in developing countries and so won't ever be in a position to pay us back through giving; and also a dire lack of staff to mount a direct giving campaign, which can be very expensive and has no guaranteed return on investment.

Plus, well, we have terrible publicity because we have absolutely no publicity team, so no one really knows we exist except for the governments and grantmakers we work with. People might donate to us if they knew we were a thing. But that takes... money.

Both organizations (my old one and new one) are currently trying to build up their individual support, but it is a long, hard road, and when you have so little money for support staff, it seems like a wiser use of time to employ one grantwriter who could get you half a million bucks in a few months from a single source, than to pour money into individual giving efforts which might cost more than they take in. We actually hosted a charity gala (before I got here) that netted a sadly small amount, after the planning and catering costs were taken into account.
posted by showbiz_liz at 3:16 PM on November 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


It can simultaneously be true that charities are corrupt and charity watchdogs are corrupt. Hell, it just creases the level of irony.
posted by Apropos of Something at 3:19 PM on November 26, 2013


I get calls from questionable charities all the time; one tip off is that they carefully choose their name to sound like a legit charity. The American Lung Association is legit; if someone were asking for money for The National Lung Association (which doesn't exist according to Google) I would be suspicious. If you want to see some really dodgy charities. look at the donation jars that are omnipresent at convenience stores and other small businesses. One way to evaluate a charity is via Charity Navigator. Their info can be incomplete at times, but my take is that if a charity hasn't been around long enough/is big enough to have a demonstrable track record of fiscal responsibility it is easy enough to find one that has.

And don't get me started on the school fundraising industry. I would rather just write a check, or better yet pay slightly more in taxes, than see public schools depend on overpriced chocolate to fund themselves.
posted by TedW at 3:20 PM on November 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


Basically, my point is that a high percentage of money from individual donors is just as, if not more, likely the result of a skilled team of marketing gurus than a reflection on the quality of the work the organization does. (This probably is less of a thing, admittedly, for smaller-sized nonprofits who are located in the same geographic area that they serve. It's easier to get your neighbors to give you money for the local beloved bookmobile than for international indigent defense advocacy.)
posted by showbiz_liz at 3:23 PM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


is more inspiring to the government of Norway than to Joe $10 Donation

Ha, yeah, I definitely get that. Individual giving programs are indeed really expensive and take a long time to really return the investment - years. Galas are famously horrible ways to raise money. They are really marketing/community engagement events, and should be thought of that way. No one makes any money from events. They cost too much.

Basically, my point is that a high percentage of money from individual donors is just as, if not more, likely the result of a skilled team of marketing gurus than a reflection on the quality of the work the organization does


I more or less agree with that. I mean, part of it is just that organizations that have big donor bases tend to have been around longer, and I usually want to donate to organizations that I know aren't going to like have succession problems and the like. Getting a large donor base also requires lots of time spent with boots on the ground, talking to people, etc. And I have a lot of respect for that work.

Non-emergency response International aid type organizations are probably in their own type of category because yeah, I can see where that would be extremely difficult to cultivate a donor base for. Not as sexy as the bookmobile or animal shelter for sure. Still, grant-only funding I think is still scary. I mean, after the crash in 2008, grants literally dried up. Just went away. But individual support went up. And that kept many non-profits (but not all) afloat for a few years.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:30 PM on November 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


This reality makes it incredibly easy for me to dismiss unsolicited charity solicitations. I don't give without prior research, period.This reality makes it incredibly easy for me to dismiss unsolicited charity solicitations. I don't give without prior research, period.

Yup. Whenever someone comes to the door to hit me up, first thing I say is "Do you guys have some literature or a web site? I never give money at the door but I'll check it out and if I like what I see I'll donate." Only 3-4 times did the conversation last more that 30s longer, and it's usually the well known scam "I'm trying to earn a trip selling magazine subscriptions". Those I tell to run along and bugger off.

Well, if you want all of your eleemosynary dollars to go to admin, look no further than United Way.

Even worse...you may work somewhere where you are pressured to give. When I worked at a Very Large Cellular Company, you we're "encouraged" to sign up to auto-debit a "donation" to UW. Minimum of $5, you know, for charity (and we had something like 100k employees). No pressure or anything. Except...your manager, and his manager, and on up, were given a spreadsheet of who in your org did and did not contribute. And the CTO, who was very into UW, apparently saw less than a 100% participation as a black mark on your management ability. Anecdotally, I understand we weren't the only shop with this "policy".

P.S. - Thanks...learned a new word today. Eleemosynary.
posted by kjs3 at 3:39 PM on November 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


We'll, the biggest differences between Charity Navigator, Guidestar, and GiveWell are scale and intentions. The first two organizations provide a ton of data about nearly every nonprofit in the country. It is up to you to read the data they have gathered, in the case of Guidestar, and to see how that data measures up to the criteria that is important to you. Charity Navigator does provide rankings, but not, I think, recommendations. GiveWell, on the other hand, has a staff that provides a super deep analysis of a few charities, and recommends you give funds only to these charities. Like, less than a handful of charities.

Therefore, I question the agenda of someone directing donors to GiveWell, which promotes very few charities, as opposed to Guidestar or Charity Navigator, which provide neutral data about all charities, and lets you make up your own mind. If the thrust of the article is that donors can't tell which charities are financially questionable, GiveWell can't help them.
posted by Malla at 4:44 PM on November 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'd be interested in finding out what about Givewell is so dodgy

You have to pay money (a lot) to be assessed by Givewell, immediately removing many charities that won't or can't (because of funding, policies about how they spend funds etc etc) pony up this cash. The documents the assessment relies on are generally written by the charities themselves, and it's questionable how far and deep the assessment by GiveWell actually goes. Further, in my opinion their metrics for assessment are patchy and not as solid as charity navigator.

I'm very jejune on GiveWell because a) they were established as a solution to a problem that doesn't actually exist (e.g charity navigator etc are far more comprehensive), b) their "solution" to that problem highly incomplete and by its nature exclusionary of many small charities and several very large ones, c) They are taking money from charities to perform these assessments and promote them; they are little better than an advertorial company, and this is one reason why you hardly ever see a "bad" charity on GiveWell, d) it was established and run by people with no experience or qualifications in the aid industry and e) this is more subjective, but they really view everything through a neo-liberal start-up lens, which resonates strongly with corporations and the bourgeoisie but is often a totally stupid and innapropriate way to think about aid and charities.

I've given more detail about my problems with Givewell, as have many others in great positions to assess, in some of the many metatalks that have come up about it. The mefi fracas is so far down on my list of issues it doesn't even register.
posted by smoke at 5:18 PM on November 26, 2013 [13 favorites]


It seems to be legal, and rarely subject to scrutiny, to run a charity that keeps almost all the donations for itself.

Infuriatingly, the very first thought that popped into my head when I read that headline was that this is pretty much a description of what Givewell is really about. A so-called charity, whose true and real purpose is simply to justify its own existence and create salaries for its executives. Holden Karnofsky saw a chance to get in on some of that sweet charity lucre, and to do this he simply crowned himself as the king of the experts in charity-analysis, despite the absence of any experience in the field, whatsoever. None. That the gullible buy into his marketing-plan, and allow him to siphon hundreds of thousands into his little empire is just maddening, especially in view of the far more useful and qualified services already extant.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 6:18 PM on November 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm also not convinced grants are much of a seal of approval.

They can be, but they aren't necessarily. To know which funders to follow, you need to know an awful lot about how they work and how they make their decisions, and if you're going to do that much analysis anyway, you might as well research the charities themselves.

Grants Grantors are weird things, and winning them over is just as political as getting a major gift.


Signed,

Someone who gives money away for a living.
posted by scrute at 8:01 PM on November 26, 2013


Isn't IKEA's parent company something similar (i.e., a “charitable foundation” with few if any charitable works)?
posted by acb at 12:43 AM on November 27, 2013


Givewell is really not guilty of a lot of the hate that is thrown at it by metafilter. They were pretty clueless early on but they have improved an awful lot and don't bear that much relationship to that early organisation. The description of them as hedge fund jocks with no experience in the charities field was a fair assessment when Givewell was starting out in 2007 and sockpuppeting on metafilter - but I don't think its fair now.

Worse, much of the criticism of them in this thread seems just inaccurate or highly unfair. Givewell as fair as I can tell does not take money from charities to assess them (certainly the process is time-consuming, but that is very different) . Givewell does not "keep almost all donations for itself" or have the real purpose of "creating salaries for its executives" - they have channelled multimillions of dollars over their existence to charities that do provably fantastic work in the developing world - the claim they are just some neoliberal front group is about the most uncharitable reading of givewell possible

Givewell is not a charity "evaluator" , they are a charity highlighter. They highlight a few charities that are underfunded, work in proven areas and are highly transparent and accountable. Thats a good thing! The idea that give well is saying "don't give to other charities" or "any charity that cannot meet our stringent search criteria is bad" is nonsense. If you think that you are reading something into give well that I just don't see!
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 2:19 AM on November 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm a GiveWell fan too. Their blog is consistently interesting and informative.
posted by painquale at 5:34 AM on November 27, 2013


Even worse...you may work somewhere where you are pressured to give. When I worked at a Very Large Cellular Company, you we're "encouraged" to sign up to auto-debit a "donation" to UW. Minimum of $5, you know, for charity (and we had something like 100k employees). No pressure or anything. Except...your manager, and his manager, and on up, were given a spreadsheet of who in your org did and did not contribute. And the CTO, who was very into UW, apparently saw less than a 100% participation as a black mark on your management ability. Anecdotally, I understand we weren't the only shop with this "policy".

I work for two nonprofits which are partially funded by the United Way. Employee contributions are heavily pressed--even though all of us are making under market value because we're working for a nonprofit in the first place.
posted by chaiminda at 6:00 AM on November 27, 2013


I don't always have a lot of extra money, but when I do, I give to non-profits whose services I use (public radio) or orgs that friends or family members work at or run (or did in the past). Shelters, schools, a priest who pays for children to attend school in Mexico...I know they're going to do something good with the money. They may not be the very best out there, but at least I know they aren't one of these companies.
posted by MsDaniB at 6:37 AM on November 28, 2013


A few years ago it hit me that there was a better way to give well.

I send the money I would otherwise give to organizations (that mostly seem to spend every cent I give and more re-soliciting me with insultingly sentimentalized pitches) to actual poor people I know. No tax deduction. Ask me if I care.
posted by spitbull at 8:31 AM on November 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


« Older Y'all act like you never seen a Walter White...   |   A malignant species of wit Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments