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Think Before You Plunk: Which Charity Will Use Your Haiti Donation Wisely?

5 years ago
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Compassion and concern for the victims of Tuesday's earthquake outside of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, has prompted caring people to make donations to assist in their aid. I had planned to write a quick post discouraging donations to big, bloated, bureaucratic charities with overpaid CEOs and marketing budgets more appropriate for multinational oil companies than nonprofits.

But I soon realized that by the time I separated rumors from facts and scandals from smear campaigns, Haiti would be fully rebuilt and I would be serving out my dotage in the Sarah Daft Home.

So I'll just suggest as a caution that readers check out Caroline Preston's 2007 post on, "What the Red Cross Scandal Says About All Charities," in which she quotes author Hildy Gottlieb:

Like so many other charities, [the Red Cross] is more preoccupied with "organizational survival" -- namely avoiding the next round of budget cuts, getting board members engaged, and other day-to-day concerns -- than it is with its mission.

Fittingly, American Red Cross, whose CEO was paid $565,000 in 2008, gets only three out of four stars from Charity Navigator.

Charity Navigator is a nonprofit that rates other nonprofits, with the self-described goal of serving as an "intelligent guide to giving." The group is unaffiliated with any other charity in the world, and claims objectivity and independence.

Charities are rated on organizational efficiency and organizational capacity, answering questions such as: How effectively does a charity use the dollars it gets from donors? Does it overpay its CEO or staff? Does it spend more on fundraising than on its mission? Does it have the infrastructure to get things done? Is there anything unusual on the balance sheet?

In other words: Is the charity competent? And is it honest?

The images appearing on our TV and computer screens for the last three days are so horrific that it's tempting to just hit the donate button. But overgrown, lumbering, scandal-ridden charities aren't the only problem. The FBI warns sympathetic donors to watch out for Haiti aid scams.

Why take a chance? People wanting to help have other choices. Charity Navigator has a whole page devoted to highly rated organizations providing relief to earthquake survivors in Haiti.

Doctors Without Borders is a 4-star charity. They're already in Haiti, and, since the quake, have served over a thousand patients in tents they've set up.

Another 4-star charity, Partners in Health, is less famous than Doctors Without Borders, but is highly respected (and also highly efficient, using just 5 percent of its funds for overhead). Partners in Health has been in Haiti for years, and they are working hard now to save as many lives as they can in this medical catastrophe.

Please consider these 4-star charities too. Each one uses less than 2 percent of revenues for overhead:

Operation USA is sending medical aid.

Heart to Heart International is preparing a major response.

Direct Relief International is sending food and medicine to Haitian hospitals.

If you watched these MSNBC and CNN video reports, you know how desperate is the need for medical care:

Those concerned about the plight of animals in Haiti might want to consider these three charities, which are preparing responses: Best Friends Animal Society, Humane Society International and The International Fund for Animal Welfare.

There are many other excellent nonprofits out there. Just check them out before you give.
Filed Under: Woman Up

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