Indianapolis, IN - March 21, 2007
Just when I think I'm coming around and begin liking people again, something like this happens. The phone rang at the office this morning and a woman identifying herself as Susan Cook announced that she was calling on behalf of the "Committee for Missing Children." Susan gruffly explained that, while I may not recognize the name of her organization, I would likely recall one of the 2 billion images of missing children they've distributed on milk cartons and posters over the years. The reason for her call as a once-yearly fundraising campaign to help the organization do more work to reunite missing kids with their families. "Last year we were able to reunite one in six missing kids. We're hoping to do better this year and we need your donation. Will you help these families?"
Honestly, I could argue that I don't think pictures of missing kids in elementary schools does much to help reunite these kids with their families, but I really wasn't in a mood to argue. And our policy here is to avoid giving to telephone solicitations regardless of the cause. So I told her I wasn't interested in giving today, she persisted once more (referencing the tax deductibility of my donation) and I again refused. Apparently, this really raised her ire.
"Get interested in your community!" she yelled, a half second before she hung up on me.
Now, normally my general distaste for phone solicitations would cause me to just forget this encounter and move on. But I couldn't process her attitude with an organization that was supposedly altruistic. What to do?
I visited Charity Navigator and looked up the organization. Charity Navigator is a great resource that exists to "help charitable givers make intelligent giving decisions by providing information on over five thousand charities and by evaluating the financial health of each of these charities." I couldn't possibly give this web site or this organization a higher recommendation. Before you give to any charity, I recommend that you spend a few minutes doing some research. Charity Navigator works so well because they take all of the financial information about each charity and boil it down to the key issues: how much money are they raising, how much is spent funding the staff, how much is spent on the programs they're sponsoring, and (most important in this case) how much are they spending just to raise the money? The information presented comes from publicly available IRS filings and is certified correct by the charities themselves.
The site allows registered users (registration is free) to compare selected charities to easily compare them side by side. It also provides a wealth of information to help you process all of the requests for support and a great Tips & Resources section to help guide intelligent giving. One of my favorite features, however, is the willingness of the organization (both on the site and on the President's blog) to call things as they see it.
By now you might be wondering about the Committee for Missing Children. Turns out they rate zero stars out of four, a rating that equates to "Exceptionally Poor: Performs far below industry standards and below nearly all charities in its Cause." It's efficiency rating is also zero, most likely because rundraising expenses eat up 90.4% of the donations. In other words, more than ninety cents of every dollar is spent just to get donations. While this is disturbing, it's even more alarming that their revenue is growing by 24.1%.
For contrast, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children has a four-star rating, fundraising expenses are only 3.7%, and program expenses account for 95% of revenue (compared to 8.2% for the Committee for Missing Children.)
That's precisely why I'm against giving to phone solicitors. Instead, tell the caller that you'll look into their organization and, if you decide, you'll make a donation either directly or on their web site. Your first stop, however, should be Charity Navigator.