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SURF THIS: Is charity legit? Here is where you can find out

March 26, 2007

Just when I think I'm coming around to liking people, something like this happens. The phone rang at the office and a woman announced that she was calling on behalf of the "Committee for Missing Children." She gruffly explained that, while I may not recognize the organization's name, I would likely recall one of the 2 billion images of missing children they've distributed on milk cartons and posters.

Our policy here is to avoid giving to telephone solicitations. So I told her I wasn't interested in giving, she persisted and I again refused. Apparently, this really raised her ire. "Get interested in your community!" she yelled. Then she hung up on me.

Normally my distaste for phone solicitations would cause me to just forget this encounter. But I couldn't reconcile her rude attitude with an organization that was supposedly altruistic. What to do?

I visited Charity Navigator (www.charitynavigator.org) and looked up the organization. Charity Navigator is a great resource to "help charitable givers make intelligent giving decisions by providing information on over 5,000 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 takes all of the financial information about each charity and boils 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, and how much are they spending just to raise the money? The information comes from publicly available Internal Revenue Service filings and is certified correct by the charities themselves.

The site allows registered users to easily compare selected charities side by side. It also provides a wealth of information to help you process all of the requests for support and a great "tips and resources" section. One of my favorite features is the willingness of the organization to call things as they see it.

You might be wondering about the Committee for Missing Children. Turns out they rate zero stars out of four. Its efficiency rating is also zero, most likely because fund-raising expenses eat up 90.4 percent of the donations. It's even more alarming that its revenue is growing by 24.1 percent.

By contrast, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children has a four-star rating, fund-raising expenses are only 3.7 percent, and program expenses account for 95 percent of revenue (compared to 8.2 percent for the Committee for Missing Children).

This is why I'm against giving to phone solicitors. Instead, tell the caller that you'll look into the organization and, if you decide, you'll make a donation directly or on its Web site. Your first stop should be Charity Navigator.



Cota is creative director of Rare Bird Inc., a full-service advertising agency specializing in the use of new technologies. His column appears monthly. He can be reached at jim@rarebirdinc.com.
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