Saturday, December 19, 2015

Skeptical Saturday: Bad Charity Facebook Infographic

I've seen this making the rounds in my personal Facebook feed recently:

And while the spirit of the post is right—before any large charitable donation, you'll probably want to think a bit and do some research before you donate—everything else is...questionable.

First and foremost, I want people to stop calling Salvation Army a charity. They're not. They're a religious proselytizing group who actively campaign against LGBTQ+ rights whenever possible. There's a good reason that noted queer rights supporter Macklemore didn't name drop the charity in his paean to secondhand clothes shopping. I refuse to even dignify it with any further discussion here.

But secondly, if you run this information via Snopes, you get something...interesting. Turns out it's...mostly outdated and inaccurate!

Anyway, here is what Charity Navigator has to say about all of the charities in this image:

Ronald McDonald House: 4 star rating; CEO receives no compensation.

Lions Club International: 4 star rating; CEO receives no compensation from the organization (but some from affiliates)

Veterans of Foreign Wars Foundation (what I assume that image means by "The Veterans of Foreign Wars"): 3 star rating; president receives no compensation from the organization (but some from affiliates, as does the former president). They get 4 stars for transparency but only 2 for financials.

St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital: 3 star rating; current CEO receives around $1.3 million compensation annually (accounting for just 0.13% of expenses) and CEO of ALSAC receives around $600,000 annual compensation (accounting for just 0.06% of expenses). They have a full 4 stars on transparency and 3 on financials.

World Vision: 2 star rating; president receives $447,000 in annual compensation (accounting for just 0.04% of expenses). The CEO tried to do a good and awesome thing by allowing Christians in same-sex relationships and marriages to work for them, but then chickened out after a whopping total of 48 hours, so...

Make-A-Wish Foundation: 4 star rating; president and CEO (same person) receives around $220,000 in compensation annually (accounting for 5.31% of expenses).

So most of the "good" charities are good. World Vision has a ding on Charity Navigator in their financial score, not in their transparency score.

Now, on to the baddies:

The image says UNICEF, but when you nose around a bit, the comment about "CEO having use of a Rolls-Royce" seems to point to the U. S. Fund for UNICEF specifically. It just so happens to have a 4 star rating on Charity Navigator and the organization actually dispels this Rolls-Royce and millionaire myth right on their damn page.

Anonymous emails claim that the U.S. Fund for UNICEF's CEO earns more than $1 million and has use of a Rolls Royce. These assertions are false. 
As President and CEO of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, Caryl Stern earns $521,820. She does not have a company car; she drives a 2007 Prius which she purchased in 2009.

March of Dimes: 2 star rating; president receives around $500,000 compensation annually, which accounts for 0.24% of expenses. And while they have a full 4 stars for transparency, they have a 1 star rating on financial performance, which was the lowest financial score for any of the named organizations.

Again, the image is unclear, so I assume they mean United Way Worldwide. Otherwise there are hundreds of different United Ways in different cities listed on Charity Navigator, each with their own individual ranking. United Way Worldwide has a 3 star rating: 4 stars for transparency but only 2 for financials. The president and CEO (the same person) receives $764,000 annually for compensation (0.84% of expenses). However, there is a good chance that your local United Way has a different score. Many local ones have strong 4 star ratings.

The American Red Cross: 3 star rating; the president and CEO (same person) receives $562,000 annually in compensation (which accounts for 0.01% of expenses). 4 stars for transparency, 2 for financials.

Goodwill Industries: not listed on Charity Navigator, but they've also addressed this meme-ified accusation head-on:
The message then quotes erroneous information and salary figures for several nonprofit organizations’ chief executives, including a reference to a so-called “Goodwill CEO and Owner Mark Curran, who profits $2.3 million a year.”  Jim Gibbons is the CEO of Goodwill Industries International...
Goodwill Industries International earns $5 billion revenue per year, and we spend about 83 cents of every dollar on programs and services for people in need. This is a very healthy number in the nonprofit world, and a solid indicator of our commitment to good stewardship of your donations.
Should you think before you donate? Yes, absolutely. Should "thinking" involve a mindless image shared a thousand times over in your Facebook news feed? Probably not. While most of the good ones were certifiably good, not all of them were—and good organizations like Goodwill and the U. S. Fund for UNICEF were erroneously labeled as wasteful. And, if you want to talk about administrative costs, the Make-A-Wish Foundation's president and CEO takes the largest percentage of funds compared to anything else here—and this was considered a "good guy"!

The funny thing about data is that you can massage it to paint any picture you like. Like how the image up there lists CEO salaries: some of that information was inaccurate, but some was not, but it was all deliberately chosen to paint a certain picture. But when you take those salaries, some of which are quite generous, and compare them with the organizations expenses, that's something totally different.

What disturbs me a little in these smear campaigns is a distrust of secular or multinational groups, and an implicit trust in religious (Christian) and American ones. I don't fault the faithful for wanting to do good in the world (charity is probably one of the most universal tenets among religions) and for wanting to give to charities specific to their denomination, but if the organization you're donating to is continuing to fight against progress and tolerance, you might want to donate elsewhere. Or you might not! That would make us very different people, though.

What Facebook meme has really gotten on your nerves recently?


  1. Facebook in general has really been bothering me lately. The reposting of unresearched information on any subject has just gotten ridiculous. Some people actually take those posts as real gacts, and it's just making us a nation of idiots.

    As far as the charities go, I donate to the Ronald McDonald House because I've had relatives that have actually had to use one, and the care they received from the volunteers there was just amazing to me. I also donate to St Jude, because I like that they don't bill the families they help. I was raised that charity should be a part of who you are, but to be wise about it :)

    1. All of it reminds me so much of Fahrenheit 451. We're not burning books yet, but people by and large are preferring to get their information in slick, glossy media snippets than in actual research and experience. That can only lead to bad things.

  2. Yes! Is Skeptical Saturday going to be your new thing? I like it. These Facebook things are getting so outta hand. I feel like I could make an infographic on how cows fly and some people might still believe me -_-

    1. Hahah oh man, if I put out a post like this every week, I think I would give myself a coronary by my next birthday. XP But once in a while it's good to vent!

  3. Charities are hard. I always look th up to see where the finances go. There is still one more bar for them to pass, though. Some charities treat LGBTQ+ people poorly and even contribute to hate groups.

  4. Charities are hard. I always look th up to see where the finances go. There is still one more bar for them to pass, though. Some charities treat LGBTQ+ people poorly and even contribute to hate groups.