Charities: the not-so-non-profit truth

By Alexandra Tollefson
tollefsonal@mnstate.edu

Like any Minnesotan worth their salt, every Sunday I check the score of the football game just to see how badly the Vikings got it handed to them this time. But a couple weeks ago, I noticed something when I flipped on the news to watch the sports commentary: pink. Pink gloves. Pink towels. Pink socks. Pink everywhere! Then it dawned on me — October is Breast Cancer Awareness month.
This is a fact I feel a bit ashamed for not remembering, considering my family history. Both of my grandparents have had cancer, my aunt had cancer, my stepfather had a cancer scare and now my dad is currently fighting off the disease, too. Needless to say, cancer has played a pretty big part in my life.
When I saw all the pink, I wondered to myself how much was actually being done to develop a cure for cancer. We see all this pink, all these ribbons covering everything from football players to yogurt bottles and everything in between, but how much of all this money being raised actually goes to the researchers? Better yet, how much do charities in general actually donate? This is what I set off to find out.
Turns out, a lot of other people are asking the same questions. At least we know people are being careful with their money. I read a couple articles on the topic, one from the Huffington Post and another from CNN’s Money page. Both told me relatively the same thing: do your own research first.
Giving blindly is exactly what charities want you to do. Money first, questions later. This is a good strategy for those charities that give less than 50 percent of their profits to their cause. And there are organizations that do this. It wasn’t hard to find a list of America’s 50 worst charities, a list I find more than a little unsettling.
But what set my blood pressure skyrocketing was the fact that of the fifty, ten of them were cancer charities. The fact that someone decided to take an issue that is so serious and  has caused so much pain over the years and profit from it makes me sick.
This list, put together last year by the Tampa Bay Times and the Center for Investigative Reporting, not only shows the names of those charities, but just how much (or in this case, little) actually went to research and aid. Only one, the Veteran’s Assistance Foundation, used over ten percent of their profits for benefitting others. They stood out on the list at 10.5 percent.
Among this list were some memorable names, as well. It wasn’t just comprised of small, nobody charities that people had never heard of. Coming in 41st was Find the Children, whose mission is supposed to be preventing child abuse and recovering missing children.
Slots 38, 4 and 2 were all filled with notable breast cancer charities. When I showed the list to my mother, she just shook her head. She said, “When your aunt got sick five years ago, she did some research on her own, too. It’s sad to see that things still haven’t changed.”
Thankfully, not all is lost. There are decent charities out there. The website CharityNavigator keeps tabs on a lot of charities and evaluates them based on how much of their profits go to aid.
Charities like Susan G. Komen and Wounded Warriors give over 80 percent of their profits to their respected causes. While it may not be 100 percent, we need to keep in mind that they have expenses, too. Fundraising isn’t cheap, after all.
I asked my friends in high school what they thought an acceptable balance would be.
“No less than 75 percent,” Sam, a senior, replied. “Any less, and I would feel like I might as well hand my money to the CEO myself.”
I asked several others if they this an acceptable balance, and most thought it was. There were a few, however, that thought it should be higher.
I know our world isn’t perfect, and no matter what, not everyone will always do the right thing. But something like that is easy to forget, and that’s what ends up enabling the before in the end. So here’s my advice to anyone who plans on donating to a charity in the future:
Wait
Do your research
Make sure you know where your money is going
And then slip a dollar into the charity fund and smile, knowing you’ve just helped to make the world a better place.

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