Each year, charities such as Florida-based Kids Wish Network raise millions of dollars. But according to a joint investigation by The Center for Investigative Reporting, the Tampa Bay Times and CNN, Kids Wish Network gave less than three cents on the dollar to the cause. The investigation identifies the nation’s 50 worst charities, all of which devoted less than 4 percent of donations to direct cash aid. We discuss the investigation, what should be done to crack down on bad charities, and how to make good decisions about where to send your charitable dollars.

Kendall Taggart, data reporter for the Center for Investigative Reporting
Kris Hundley, Tampa Bay Times investigative reporter
Doug White, author of "The Nonprofit Challenge: Integrating Ethics into the Purpose and Promise of Our Nation's Charities" who teaches board governance, fundraising and ethics at Columbia University and advises non profit organizations and philanthropists
Alexander Berger, senior research analyst at Givewell, a San Francisco-based charity evaluator

  • Beth Grant DeRoos

    Call me paranoid, but I only give to local causes that I check out.

  • Kate

    there was a TED talk about giving and posed the idea that organizers of these should work like a company with marketing and promotion budget.
    Which is better a charity that raises 500,000 with 90% going to the issue or one that raises 10 million and spends 30% on promotiion?

    • thucy

      That sounds like one of the reasons TED talks are so derided.

      • Kate

        not sure they are so Derided. This one in particular was on the TED radio hour by NPR!

  • Mike

    The companies are exploiting a provision in the Do Not Call Act that allows non-profits to be exempt. As a result, they can easily by calling lists and dial away. If that loophole is closed, their business goes away almost overnight since the cost of doing business increase and the fines for DNC fines are considerable.

  • Benjamin Katz

    Thanks for letting people know about these terrible organizations. Every dollar they raise is a dollar that isn’t going to a worthy organization.

    I’d also like to let your readers know about our directory: — At Givalike, you’ll find a listing of over 1.4 million nonprofits and information about each one. These organizations, along with hundreds of other questionable nonprofits, have been flagged in our system so that donors are appropriately warned about where there money is really going.

  • Teri Adams

    I was wondering what your guests have to say about supermarkets that collect for charities. Is this a good option? I hear that those supermarkets use the charity dollars collected as a tax right off for the supermarkets.

  • Rusanoff

    “Nothing is separated faster then a fool from his gold”

    Unfortunately this program reiterates buyer be ware. The government fails to regulate and charities fail to learn how to run a business in a savvy way… It’s very disappointing because I see that educating charities & government bureaucracy can fix this corruption.

  • Stacy

    What a great topic – thank you for having this discussion. An interesting new non-profit helps others measure and publish their effectiveness and impact: What an important topic – thank you again!

  • Janet Mishner

    You have only reached the tip of the iceberg with the marketers. My 90 year old mother (in her diminished intellectual capacity)has been prey to hundreds of mailed solicitations. Lucky for her, she has adult children supervising her check writing. I hate to think about the millions of lonely seniors who are sending their money to these frauds!!

  • Allen

    We can easily agree that what these top 50 worst charities have done is unethical. But is it criminal? What are the ramifications other than losing their tax exempt status? Especially when they can easily move to another state or re-form under a different name…

    Unless we have some quantitative rules that clearly specifies what a charity can or cannot do with the funds raised, establishes strict limits on marketing expenses or executive compensation, I don’t see how to stop this type of fraud. Time has proven that there will always be a significant segment of the society that responds to telemarketers that pull their heart strings.

    As for the TED-like arguments, for people who believe that a strict business-like mode of operation is more efficient, they can always incorporate their charity as a for-profit organization and run it as a real business.

    • Ehkzu

      I agree, and would add that this is where the Republicans’ Libertarianism breaks down. When my mother in law was slowly losing her mind over the course of a decade, she was prey to every sort of scam artist. Not to mention my own mother’s last husband stealing from her to send money to TV preachers.
      Libertarianism depends on all of us being smart and college-educated with trained critical thinking skills–and the means to afford crack attorneys if push comes to shove. To everyone else, they just say we’re immoral not to have all these attributes so we should just suck it up.

  • Frank

    Hello, I recently encountered a woman who lives in a million dollar home on a ridge along the Peninsula south of SF, with a view of the entire valley, despite her being a stewardess on an airline. I just assumed she had divorced a dot-com millionaire, and who knows, perhaps she did, but she subsequently told me she ran a charity having to do with dogs…

  • Ehkzu

    Interstate fraud is a federal crime. We need Congress to define “charity” in such a way as to preclude these hustles. Con artists love cons that are legal, of course. It’s great for charities to be efficacious but hard to quantify. You can, however, quantify what % of their income goes to overhead, and criminalize those that devote, say, more than 75% of their income to “overhead.” Plus require them to publicly disclose the ratio.

  • Julia S.

    If you want to easily support trustworthy and effect organizations, I really recommend using Bright Funds, which does extensive research to evaluate charities and create “mutual funds” of high impact organizations organized according to issue area.

  • Trsitan

    Giving should be done with organizations who don’t take cuts! is a great exemple of what an organization should be!

  • Beth Grant DeRoos

    Wonder how much of the money we give to NPR and PBS goes to actual programming and how much goes to pay for CEO’s, fancy buildings etc.

  • Mjhmjh

    Concerning the supermarket checkout requests, my question is: do the supermarkets include MY donations in their publicity materials vaunting the annual amount THEY have donated to charity?

    It’s not fear of appearing Scrooge-like that motivates me to donate at the checkout, but guilt. I look at my pile of better-quality food sitting there and ask myself why I can buy all this, yet am unwilling to share my good fortune. Since I shop frequently, I sometimes find myself avoiding that particular supermarket, just because I don’t want to have to give to that month’s charity yet again, rather than to other charities that I favor.

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