- John Brodey
Well for starters, we learned that being of a certain age means we need to be even more vigilant than ever. Efforts to take advantage of our demographic have increased in both frequency and boldness. We now know that the IRS doesn’t call and threaten to send the police to your home. What’s more, you aren’t likely to have a grandchild in a Mexican jail calling to get bail money. In fact, I don’t even have grandchildren but there they were crying hysterically on the phone.
All this has made me even more skeptical in my dealings with the world in general. As the great Lily Tomlin once observed: “No matter how cynical I get, I just can’t keep up.” Beware the man in the PG&E uniform wanting to gain access to inspect your water heater and while you are in the garage with him, his accomplice grabs jewelry and money. These are blatant attempts to separate you from your money.
There is an additional layer to this that doesn’t involve theft but rather puts into question something as seemingly harmless as a donation to charity. I get phone calls periodically from charities that address the needs of worthy organizations supporting various groups such as our veterans or first responders. What’s to question? Well, all charities are not created equal. I immediately tell the caller that I don’t make donations over the phone until I have more information. Then, the first thing I do is look them up on Charity Navigator. This non-profit service receives the same documents that charities send to the IRS as required by law. It tracks how the money contributed is allocated. How much of each dollar spent goes to doing the work itself, how much is spent on fundraising, how much on administrative costs, what is their efficiency figure? Charity Navigator breaks it down for you and ultimately gives a 1 to 4 stars rating based on the results.
Kars4Kids is a familiar organization that sells donated automobiles, turning them into cash. The numbers tell the story as they rate only one star. It seems that only .46 cents of every dollar goes to the kids’ programs, while .47 cents of each dollar goes toward fundraising which isn’t surprising because advertising is expensive. This is an ineffective model. The good news is that there are an abundance of 4 star charities from which to choose. In this category, organizations spent at least 90% of the money raised on doing the work and it includes familiar names like the ACLU (96.6%), St. Jude (91%), Doctors
Without Borders (94.7%) and my favorite ROTARY (97.5%). There are even lists like, ‘the 10 best charities everyone’s heard of’. It also flags charities that are under investigation by law enforcement. Being generous and thoughtful comes with the responsibility to make sure your donation is being well managed and maximized. Take the time to visit www.charitynavigator.org. It’s the least you can do.