"America's Worst Charities" was a headline that caught my eye, and I'm glad it did.
The phrase was attached to a package of stories published by the Tampa Bay Times about charitable organizations that spend a big chunk of their donated funds on companies that raised the money in the first place.
The news package, written in conjunction with the Center for Investigative Reporting and CNN, describes a subsegment of the charity world that seemingly exists only to raise money, the largest part of which is spent on the companies that raise the funds.
For example, No. 1 on the Tampa Bay Times' list of the 50 worst charities, ranked by the amount spent on outside fundraisers, was the Kids Wish Network. The Kids Wish Network over 10 years spent $109.8 million on solicitors, in the process raising $127.8 million and spending just 2.5 percent of its funds on direct cash aid, according to the investigation. The organization passed legal muster, according to a spokesman in the article, but I'm not sure that all its donors would be happy with that level of efficiency.
Meanwhile, the 50 charities on the list raised more than $1.3 billion over 10 years and paid nearly $1 billion of that to companies that raise their donations.
All of those numbers make me feel a little bit better about my rule to not donate to telephone solicitors purporting to represent a cause I might support until after they've sent me additional information, which never seems to arrive.
I have always been particularly suspicious of organizations I've never heard of but sound a lot like larger organizations. This story validates my suspicions. But that puts groups like the cancer-fighting giant American Cancer Society — the ACS declined comment — in the position of competing for charitable donations with similarly named organizations such as Cancer Fund of America, which according to the article spent $80.4 million over 10 years to raise $98 million.
It is a little maddening to think about how much good that nearly $1 billion spent by the 50 charities on solicitation could've done had it gone into actual charitable programs.