Donate Some Thought

This essay was originally published on June 1, 2015.

Scamming has gotten to the point where we can joke about it. The majority of us know those poorly written e-mails from Nigerian royalty promising multimillion dollar awards are scams. The problem is, we now have scams coming at us from every direction, and it’s getting much harder to spot them. To further exacerbate our confusion, legitimate, licensed charities are in on it. They couldn’t possibly be scamming us, could they?

Last week, my fellow breast cancer sister got a call from a prominent breast cancer charity, the Breast Cancer Charities of America, looking for a donation. This call came on the heels of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) blowing the doors off a $187 million dollar scam perpetrated by a group of cancer charities.

My friend is no pushover. She questioned the caller about how much of her donation would actually go towards helping women with breast cancer. When the caller responded that about 15 cents of every dollar goes to women in need, my friend declined to donate. When you read about administrators of charities spending millions on cars, houses, vacations, and other expenditures that only benefit them, you have to think twice before you loosen those purse strings. Only 15 cents out of every dollar? That’s thievery, not charity.

The problem is, this type of thievery is easy to get away with. You can set up a legitimate looking Web site, write fake testimonials from individuals who claim the organization has helped them, and recruit famous people as mouthpieces for hire. In the end, a trickle goes to the actual cause. And it’s all legal if you have the proper paperwork in place. No one will be the wiser, until someone comes looking. And we all know, it takes very little effort to unravel a good scam.

The next time you get a solicitation phone call*, or spot what looks to be a legitimate charitable organization online, please do your homework before whipping out your credit card. A reputable charity will have no problem disclosing where every penny of your donations go, and it is up to you to decide whether or not that particular charity is worthy of receiving your hard-earned scratch. Keep in mind that there are many low-profile organizations in your area doing great work to help people. Very often, it’s best to donate to one of those, than it is to send money to the high-profile behemoths that are most likely in bed with a harem of corporate partners that are spending your donations on slick marketing campaigns to sell products.

*If you don’t want to be pestered by phone at all, add your number(s) to the National Do Not Call Registry.

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