Category Archives: #volunteer

Saints or Charlatans

How can you know which charities are the best? Many are trustworthy and provide a valuable service, but many others intentionally coerce you to give abundantly so that they can line their own pockets while providing indifferent services to the needy.

In America I use Charity Navigator (www.charitynavigator.org) to gauge the veracity of specific charities, it is an independent organization that evaluates 5,400 of America’s largest charities. A 4-star rating means that the charity is considered “exceptional,” whereas a 1-star rating reflects an overall evaluation of “poor.”

I supported an international charity for many years that provides support to needy children. I signed up and was assigned a specific child to sponsor, I received a picture of the child and some information (age, gender, family status, country, hobbies, etc), and then started sending monthly contributions. I received periodic updates about the services provided to my child (clothes, toys, medical care, etc.), and about once or twice a year I exchanged letters with the child.

Though it has been many years since I stopped supporting that charity, I still remember the name of my sponsored child: Maria Murmu, who lived in India.

I regularly wrote letters to Maria telling her a little about my life (within the guidelines specified by the charity), I acknowledged information she had shared with me in her letter, and I would ask her specific questions about her school, family, activities, etc. (again, all within the guidelines specified by the charity).

However, I always had this nagging feeling that she never received any of the letters I sent her. Her letters to me never referenced anything in my letters, and her letters were always written in a specific format, something like, “Hello Sponsor, I hope that this letter finds you well. School has been challenging this term, and here are some of the other things I have been doing: Playing with friends, obeying my mother, and helping out around the house. Thank you, Sponsor, for our generous support. Your loving child, Maria.”

Granted, that is an oversimplification, but not by much. The best thing about her letters was the crayon drawings she did in the margins, but even those did not vary much from year to year.

I sponsored Maria from the time she was 7 years old until she was well past 18. I received a new picture of her once each year, and I could at least see how her face matured over the years.

Then one day I received an unceremonious letter from the charity saying something like, “Sorry, but your sponsored child has now graduated from the program, and we have no further information about her. Would you like another child to sponsor?” It was not a warm and fuzzy feeling.

So I decided to investigate the charity to learn more about it, and I went online and found a few different charity evaluators. The result is that I discovered that the CEO`s annual salary was about $375,000, and if he had any perks his total compensation was undoubtedly north of $400K.

Now I’m not against making money, and I sincerely hope that God will entrust me with vast pools of resources, but I felt that the salary of that CEO was excessive …. And I stopped sponsoring children through that charity.

Maria Murmu is almost old enough to be a grandmother by now, and if you are out there Maria and see this blog article, please write and tell me about the last 18 years of your life. Meanwhile, I’d like to talk a little more about charities.

I met a volunteer here in Puerto Vallarta who is visiting a different orphanage than the one I am. He called my orphanage “For-profit” and his “Non-profit.” Based on his additional comments, I should consider transferring any additional time and money to his preferred orphanage.

I met a second volunteer who told me that she used to teach English to kids supported by an agency in town, but they kicked her out because they became jealous of her proficiency in English and resented the progress she made teaching the kids English. So she landed at my “For-profit” orphanage, and feels better about serving there.

At the end of my last visit, the business manager at my “For-profit” orphanage pulled out a laptop and showed me both a PowerPoint presentation and a flash demo which depicts their vision for the orphanage, but that they will need additional funding to achieve their vision.

A third volunteer told me that my “For-profit” orphanage is not really a true orphanage because few of the kids actually live there, it is more of a shelter for abused kids. But the term “orphanage” is used because it enhances fundraising. He also told me that he used to volunteer at a second charity I have been assisting this week, let’s just call it The School, but that he quit over ethical differences with The School.

I met the founder of The School, and he seemed like a real nice chap. I have no reason not to trust him, but he did make an interesting comment about the name of the charity. They intentionally gave the charity a name that includes a derogatory term because it “evokes” an emotional response.

So, how in the hell are you supposed to know who to support?

Here`s an idea, send your charitable dollars to me … I`ve given away more money than was given me to give away on this trip, and there have been absolutely no administrative expenses whatsoever. But then again, that`s a sorry way to operate a charity … when I get back to Utah, I am not going to have any staff, equipment, infrastructure, or endowment.

It’s all good.

Also posted in #nonprofit