WHICH CHARITIES WILL HELP HOUSTON THE MOST? Here are some researched conclusions.

U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Daniel J. Martinez. This photo is in the public domain and was found at Wikimedia Commons. (Thank you, Sgt. Martinez.)

It’s September 4, Labor Day, 2017, and the images coming out of Houston are still horrific. Houston’s recovery will be long and arduous and Congress is about to debate how much money to dedicate to the project. In the meantime many of us are not waiting for Congress. We’re debating which charity will give us the most bang for the buck in helping those in need.

I wrote an article last week about Hurricane Harvey. Toward its end I put an update that mentioned the institution in Houston to which I’d sent a contribution. This weekend I consulted Charity Navigator (well-respected, and sort of a Consumer Reports for charities) to narrow down the myriad of choices that confront us when we try to give to worthy causes. Many bogus online scams pop up at times like this and many people throw their money away by not doing their DD (due diligence). Also it’s hard to know how much of your donation will actually go to those in need and not toward administrative expenses and fundraising costs.

Think of those unsolicited telemarketer calls that try to tug at your heartstrings or your patriotic fervor. Think of the similarly themed ads that come to your mailbox. Or those late night 30–60 second tearjerkers with big sad-eyed children — or animals — that often are so wrenching they make you want to change channels. These entreaties do not come free; they are bought and paid for by the charities and that is where some (and in the worst cases) most of your contributions go: to those same telemarketers or the producers of those ads.

Examples? Well, here’s a horror page provided by the Tampa Bay Times with 48 less than stellar — Would “scum sucking” be a more accurate description? — organizations that purport to do good works. A good number of them give 1 % or less of their donations to the targets of their benevolence. That means out of every $1,000,000 such a charity collects, only $10,000 makes it to the people — again, or animals — they claim to help! You can be sure that the “officers” in such enterprises make well over $10,000 a year for their service to humanity.

“How can this be legal?” you ask. Easy! Just be honest with the paperwork you provide to the state as a non-profit and it’s as legal as setting up your very own Air Store. All you need is to convince people to buy that air. No one is forcing the customers to do anything. It’s their choice, right?

Now I assume most of you want to give to charities that will funnel your contributions directly to those who need it. The American Red Cross often comes to people’s minds first, both because of its illustrious history and its size. It is the largest United States charity and certainly among the best known. Charity Navigator logged over 160,000 page views for the Red Cross in the last 30 days (!!), over double the charity second-most searched. (Interestingly enough, that second most-searched charity is the one I contributed to.) Now I’m sure money from the Red Cross is pouring into Houston and its environs. But let’s check and see how the Red Cross normally stacks up against other well-publicized national charities. The following have been ordered by their size.

Statistics courtesy of CharityNavigator.org. Chart compiled by Daniel Berenson.

Pretty interesting, huh? Several numbers practically scream their relevance. Look how far below the others the American Cancer Society and the Muscular Dystrophy Association rate in terms of the percentage of their donations that are doled out. A quick look at the “Fundraising Costs” will show why. Now despite those rumors that Jerry Lewis was making a killing off his hosting the Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon each year, he contributed all his time and work for free (according to Snopes.com, my go-to for “urban legends” and “Is it or is it not fake news?”). Nevertheless, the MDA gave out only 73% of their contributions and the American Cancer Society was even worse with 60%. That’s a big reason their overall scores (Column 2) were fairly low.

Now how did the Red Cross rank lower than the American Heart Association? Hey, their costs are only half as much. Well, this headline from NPR in mid-2016 is apparently what did the most damage.

This headline appeared on the NPR.org website for North Carolina Public Radio.

And below you can see Charity Navigator’s response to that “infraction.”

This explanation is from the www.charitynavigator.org glossary.

Believe me, after studying many of these statistics this weekend, it’s easy to get lost in the weeds. You are welcome to look deeper into the relative rankings. But let me say that I believe, despite this incident, the American Red Cross is a top-of-the-line organization! There are over 1.5 million non-profits registered in the U.S. — you can look it up! — and I’m sure the Red Cross does far more and better work than a very great number of them. (How many I’m not willing to research.) But records show that 90 cents of every dollar you donate to them gets to the people you were thinking of.

But besides the Red Cross, the other biggies above don’t have much reason to respond to Hurricane Harvey. CARE concentrates on global poverty (and incidentally was guilty of the same “diversion of assets” infraction that the Red Cross committed.) I ended up researching the names of those charities that have “Houston” in their names. Logical, no?

And here they are. (See below.) Please note how efficient they are in general and their subsequent high “Overall Scores.” And look who’s on top, both in its score (a perfect 100) and in its size. The Houston Food Bank is over twice as big as any other charitable organization centered on the Houston area.

Statistics courtesy of CharityNavigator.org. Chart compiled by Daniel Berenson.

And that is why I contributed to the Houston Food Bank. However, there are other organizations I’ve listed that are very worthy of your attention and you are welcome to do your own research. But please don’t give to just anybody. The people of Houston need your support.

Thank you.
Daniel Berenson

P.S. And here is the page that references all the charities that received a Perfect Score from Charity Navigator. But there are many others that are almost perfect! Do some reading. Enjoy!
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About the author— Daniel Berenson is a sometimes contributor to Medium on all sorts of topics, a middle school teacher for over 30 years, the founder of Freaky Dude Books, and currently an instructor in ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) for recent immigrants. I would appreciate any followers and/or clapping for this article. I also welcome all (reasonable) comments and suggested charities not mentioned. Thanks very much!

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