Dear Nonprofiteer, I’m making a list and checking it twice

Dear Nonprofiteer,

I stumbled across you while looking for some
experts in the field of non-profit organizations. As someone with experience in
this arena, I would greatly appreciate your feedback regarding a site that I
recently developed, . The concept is simple. Visitors vote
for their favorite non-profit organizations. These votes generate ad revenue.
100% of this ad revenue is then distributed to the top vote receiving

I have currently populated the system with several
non-profits that I am familiar with. However, I am happy to add any
organization that can confirm its non-profit status. It could be an interesting
marketing tool for smaller non-profits to get their message out. Additionally,
even if the cause that you are trying to support doesn’t receive the
purse at the end of the voting session, you will know that the money that you
generated will ultimately be going to a good cause.

I recently graduated from Cal and I am in
the process of applying to medical school. I created this site in my spare time
because I felt like this model would benefit a lot of great organizations that
exist today. At some point when the site has grown, I would like to cover the
costs associated with hosting this site, but for now I am happy giving all of
the revenue away as a donation.

Sincerely, Secret Santa

Dear Santa,

I have the same problem with your list of endorsed or approved charities as with the one the Better Business Bureau published in the November 12 New York Times, namely, no one really knows what goes on inside charities until it’s too late.

Want proof?  Here’s the story of the latest upheaval at the Red Cross–which appears large as life and twice as natural (and predictably enough) in the BBB’s Times ad.  And (ever the curmudgeon) the Nonprofiteer scanned the BBB list looking for the Red Cross and shook her head sagely when she found it–and that was 36 hours before the news of its most recent scandal.  Is she psychic?  No, just cynical.

At the same time–and in apparent contradiction–some people know more about what goes on in charities than others.  So asking random visitors to your site to direct your (or your advertisers’) charity with their votes based on prejudice, ignorance, hearsay ("UNICEF hates Jews!") is a lot like asking some stranger to take money out of your pocket to make paper airplanes.  Ditto for permitting random nonprofits to solicit through your site based on nothing more than proof of their tax status.  The IRS has awarded 501c3s to lots of agencies that do nothing, or do more harm than good, or do less good for their clients than their employees–or, as one of my colleagues got in lots of hot water for saying, "Some nonprofits just suck!"

So is the Nonprofiteer saying "Don’t bother"?  "Don’t give money away" or, conversely, "It doesn’t matter where you give your money?"  Not at all.  It’s just that any list of endorsed charities needs to come accompanied with a statement about the basis for the endorsement, with answers to two pairs of basic questions:

  • What do they do?  Are you sure?  (Does the Humane Society provide services to animals?  Does the Cancer Society provide treatment?  The fact that the answer to these questions is "no" doesn’t demonstrate that the agencies don’t deserve support–advocacy and research are essential, too; but people are entitled to know what they’re paying for.)  If the Red Cross spends–COMPLETELY MADE-UP NUMBERS; JUST FOR ILLUSTRATIVE PURPOSES–50% of its money on first-aid training and 50% of its money on disaster relief, people who only want to supply blankets should know that before they write the check.  And if the Red Cross spends 10% of its money–LIKEWISE COMPLETELY MADE-UP NUMBER–on public relations to manage its scandals, maybe what it does with the other 90% of the treasury makes that worthwhile; but again, people are entitled to know.
  • Is that worth doing?  Why do you think so?  (Sample response to this question: "Providing bednets prevents malaria").  You don’t have to argue that it’s the single best way to prevent malaria, or the only way to prevent malaria, or that malaria is the very worst possible thing that could happen to a person in the developing world.  You simply need to draw a straight line between what’s being done and an indisputable benefit, such as preserving health.   

I urge you to take the time to answer these two pairs of questions for each of the charities on your site.  That way you’ll be educating people who will someday reach not just for their mouses (mice?) but for their wallets when the subject of charity is mentioned.  An additional benefit: you’ll be really clear about why you donate to the charities you do, which is another way of being really clear about the good you want to accomplish in the world.

(The Nonprofiteer’s own list?:

The United Nations Population Fund.  The Fund provides reproductive health services (including contraception and surgery for obstetric fistula) to women in the developing world.  Women shouldn’t have to sacrifice their lives or their health to have babies.

The Chicago Abortion Fund.  The Fund subsidizes abortions for poor women.  Women shouldn’t have to sacrifice their lives or their health to have babies.

Various theater and dance companies in Chicago.  Beauty makes life worthwhile.)


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2 Responses to “Dear Nonprofiteer, I’m making a list and checking it twice”

  1. Marc Says:

    Dear Nonprofiteer,

    Thank you for taking the time to write about Vote4Cause. I developed and run the site. It is an interesting point that you bring up. However, Vote4Cause’s primary purpose is not to tell people which organizations they should donate to. There are a slew of resources available on the internet and offline that can help people research worthy organizations. As much as I would love to provide this value to visitors, I simply don’t have the time now to commit to make important information like this satisfactorily reliable. The site (and I for that matter) do not personally endorse any one cause. To be included at Vote4Cause, a visitor simply has to suggest an IRS recognized 501c3. As a result, the standings reflect only the time commitment of visitors to the site.

    Vote4Cause is a destination where people can ultimately “donate” to their favorite cause by investing their time. It is a place to show your support and meet fellow supporters on the message boards. It is also a venue where smaller non-profits can gain exposure that they may not otherwise have had.

    I recognize that money may ultimately be given to “bad” causes. However, I need to give every organization the benefit of the doubt at this point just because of time constraints. I am open to hearing information submitted by users concerning fraudulent causes. I will also consider being more selective about included organizations as the site grows.

    Thank you again for the feedback,

  2. Kate Says:

    Thanks for the link. I do apply a critical gaze to all the information I am given about charities through the Generous December Group Writing Project.

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