You know that annoying radio jingle "1-8-7-7-Cars for Kids, K-A-R-S Kars for Kids…"? While trying to get the noise out of your brain, have you ever wondered exactly HOW donating your car TUH-day would help children? In the vain hope of eradicating the scourge of cutesy commercials, the Nonprofiteer decided to find out.
It turns out she’s not the first to be irked to action. In August CBS-2 Chicago reported that federal authorities suspected the group of retrieving all those donated cars through unlicensed towing companies operated by felons. No further reports confirmed or disproved the investigators’ suspicions that the donated cars were producing profit rather than charity.
Let’s assume proceeds from sale of the cars actually go to charity. The real question is: what happens then? What do these people actually do "4 Kids"?
That’s hard to say from the information they provide on line. The fundraising takes front and center, with a Website all its own (separate from that of any charity) stressing the ease with which you can get rid of your car and the vacation voucher and tax-deduction receipt you’ll receive. But after a few clicks you discover all this activity is in aid of a charity called J.O.Y., Joy for Our Youth, which
distributes donated items, including food, clothing, home furnishings, toys and crafts through its own network and through other charitable organizations throughout the world.
In addition, it pays for children’s private school tuition, tutoring, summer camp, family mentoring and other support services.
Another page adds, "Our specially trained staff pinpoint the direction of care needed and expedite the care to a specially designed program on a per case basis." That’s very impressive considering that its Form 990 shows that the group pays less than $40,000 a year in salary and benefits.
You have to go deep into the 990 to discover the group’s mission: "Ministering to the spiritual and emotional needs of Jewish children and students." Nothing the matter with that, though it’s worth asking how many children they serve, and with what services, and where; but do you suppose all those people responding to a car donation appeal from a singing cowboy really understand that they’re supporting yeshivas in New Jersey?
One might also ask whether the $5.7 million in gifts the group received in 2005 was best allocated as reported: $2.9 million granted, $1.55 million spent on advertising and promotion, $1.7 million retained as fund balance.
Moral of story: ask not what your charity can do for you ("Free vacation with your car donation!"); ask what your charity is doing for others. And don’t stop asking until you get an answer more specific than "helping kids."