This is the second of three posts about giving money to charities.
I recently ran across the Charity Navigator, which looks like a very interesting tool. It rates charities on two scales: how efficiently they are run, and how financially stable they are.
You want a charity to use your money efficiently, and not burn up a large amount of it in staff salaries, fundraising expenses, and other costs that don't directly advance the cause you want to help. Some charities have scandalously high expenses. The Council to Monitor Human Rights in Iran, for example, spent nearly 80% of its monies on staff salaries last year. The Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association spent nearly half its donations on further fundraising.
A case I find more difficult to evaluate is Heifer International. They set up Third World families with animals: cattle, goats, chickens, ducks and so on, with the stipulation that the first new female born must be given to a neighbor. They've been around since 1944, people like Walter Cronkite and Ted Danson appear in their slick 30 page color catalog I just got in the mail, they're among the charities recommended by got-rocks magazines like Worth and Forbes.
Their Charity Navigator picture is mixed, though. Heifer has huge capacity and great financial stability, but their fundraising expenses are 20% of their revenues. Well, that's the slick magazine I received, among other things, and the kind of publicity machine that seduces Cronkite into appearing in your catalog and coaxes recommendations out of Forbes. And note from the Charity Navigator page that both contributions to them, and the amount of work they do have been increasing yearly. All that fundraising cash is drawing money out of the woodwork.
Or is it just diverting money from other charities? I have no way of knowing. Maybe we should be giving to the Children's Hunger Fund instead, which according Charity Navigator has fundraising expenses of only 0.1% of its revenues, and administrative expenses of only 0.2%. Wow.
Or how about the Mercy Corps, which does similar things to Heifer. Twice as big as Heifer, no Hollywood stars pimping for it, but Charity Navigator gives it four stars to Heifer's two, and shows it with staff expenses of 4.8% and fundraising expenses of 2.8%, very good for its type of charity.
Of course, what we really want to know is not just how efficient charities are with money, but what that money accomplishes on the ground, whether it really accomplishes the charity's and our aims. Money can be spent effectively or ineffectively, and Charity Navigator doesn't have a handle on that. Maybe Children's Hunger Fund is just shoveling money out the door, and Heifer, despite its high expenses, is really changing people's lives for the better? I don't know. I don't know any easy way to find out.
Final installment tomorrow.
== meutsuri == distraction, difficulty/inability in choosing
|Left radical is 'rice plant', right is 'much/many' (多), also acting phonetically to express 'sway'. This character originally referred to a field of rice plants moving in the breeze. Henshall suggests as a mnemonic: 'Transfer many rice plants.'|