Giving money to charity is a great way to help yourself and others. Opening up your wallet and donating to the less fortunate is as unselfish as it gets. While most charities are on the up-and-up, some charities and organizations aren’t as wholesome as you might think.
Before you donate your money, make sure you’re not writing a check to these scamming charities. We’ll show you the worst offenders, according to Charity Navigator, that give just a fraction of the money they raise to the causes they represent, then provide some more tips on the best ways to donate your money to charity.
10. National Veterans Service Fund
- Percent of budget donated to cause: 28.1%
In 2016, this charity, which purports to aid Vietnam and Persian Gulf war veterans, had revenues of $9,519,712. Of that, $2.56 million went to that cause, but close to $6 million was spent on fundraising expenses. But as we will see in a minute, there are several charities doing a lot less than that.
Next: A charity where 70% of costs go toward fundraising
9. Childhood Leukemia Foundation
- Percent of budget donated to cause: 23.6%
Childhood leukemia is a tough situation for children and their parents to be in, and they could use the help. Unfortunately, the Childhood Leukemia Fund could do a lot more to help. For every dollar it raises for the cause, 70 cents go to fundraising efforts. So of the $4,653,073 revenue it reported in 2016, $3.14 million went toward paying for fundraising and less than a quarter went to patients in need.
Next: No longer the worst charity, but still not great
8. Kids Wish Network
- Percent of budget donated to cause: 22.3%
At one time, Kids Wish Network was considered the worst charity in America as just 3% of income went to actually granting wishes to sick children. Kids Wish Network has improved and now more than 22% of the money goes toward its cause, but that’s not enough to avoid being one of the worst charities. Charity Navigator estimates more than 55% of the money Kids Wish Network brings in is spent on professional fundraising expenses.
Next: Where does the money go?
7. California Police Youth Charities
- Percent of budget donated to cause: 17.1%
This charity’s mission, according to its website, is “to build relationships between the law enforcement community and California youth.” But it could be doing a lot better. A report by CBS Sacramento found that CPYC paid millions of dollars to telemarketing firms to raise money, which left little for the charity itself. Charity Navigator estimates a little more than $323,000 of its $1.78 million in revenue in 2015 went to its cause. The website also gives CPYC poor marks for its financials and potential conflicts of interest.
Next: A noble, if underfunded, mission for this next charity
6. Cancer Survivors’ Fund
- Percent of budget donated to cause: 8.4%
Next: Several signs of a scam at this charity
5. Disabled Police Officers of America
- Percent of budget donated to cause: 7.8%
Formerly known as the Disabled and Retired Police Officers Educational Fund, this charity aims to provide education financial assistance to disabled or retired police officers. You wouldn’t know that from its name, though. The last time Charity Navigator looked into the financial data, this charity spent $39,000 supporting its cause. It claims to provide up to $1,000 in scholarships for former police officers. At that clip, only 39 disabled officers would receive help paying for secondary education. The charity’s own website doesn’t have a donation area or disclose any of its financial data, which the Federal Trade Commission says is the sign of a scam.
Next: Where there’s smoke …
4. Firefighters Charitable Foundation
- Percent of budget donated to cause: 7.0%
You might not know it from the name, but the Firefighters Charitable Foundation strives to give money to people affected by fires as well as volunteer fire departments. But based on numbers reported by Charity Navigator, just $444,712 went to such efforts in 2015. Meanwhile, close to $6 million was spent on fundraising and administrative expenses. Firefighters Charitable Foundation doesn’t get high marks from Charity Navigator or users writing reviews on the website Great Nonprofits.
Next: One small number says it all about this charity.
3. Children’s Charity Fund, Inc.
- Percent of budget donated to cause: 6.7%
What is the Children’s Charity Fund? Well, it seems as if it is part of a family of charities related to Cerebral Palsy. It claimed $18,966 in revenue when it last reported its 990 form to the IRS. Of that tiny amount, Charity Navigator shows the minuscule amount of $14,222 went to help the cause while it spent more than $280,000 on administrative and fundraising expenses.
Next: “With your help,” this charity gives pennies to those it seeks to assist.
2. Disabled Police and Sheriffs Foundation
- Percent of budget donated to cause: 5.8%
“We receive no state or federal funding, our only support comes from concerned citizens. … With your help, DPSF offers advanced training programs to help law enforcement officers remain safe as they perform their duties, provide assistance to disabled officers and supports the families of officers killed in the line of duty.” So reads the DPSF website. But after shelling out $1,401,140 for fundraising expenses in 2015, it gave just $85,839 to support its cause.
Next: The No. 1 worst charity gives just over 5% away.
1. Association for Firefighters and Paramedics
- Percent of budget donated to cause: 5.3%
Back in 2009, the Orange County Register (California) reported on this charity for being one of the worst in the United States. Things didn’t get any better after that. More than 85% of the budget is spent on fundraising. In 2014 (the last time it reported its 990 form to the IRS), just $172,555 was left for those it seeks to help. That same year, it spent $1.59 million on fundraising, salaries, and other expenses.
Next: Arm yourself with knowledge.
What to know when giving to charity
First, know what you’re dealing with. It sounds fancy, but 501(c)(3) is just a term for an organization set up as a nonprofit interest. But just because a group is a nonprofit doesn’t mean all the money it makes goes to charity. There is a lengthy and general list of tax-exempt causes as defined by the IRS, but a group purporting to represent such a cause doesn’t necessarily make it a charitable one.
Next: Check yourself before you wreck your pocketbook.
Go through a checklist
There are hundreds of charities out there asking for your money and as we have just seen, some aren’t quite as generous as they would have you believe. The Federal Trade Commission has a checklist you should follow anytime you are asked to donate:
- Ask for detailed information, including the address and phone number.
- Search the charity’s name online with the words scam, fraud, or complaint.
- If you receive a phone call solicitation, ask the caller the exact name of the charity he or she is representing, how much of your donation goes to the charity, and how much goes to help the cause the charity represents.
Next: There are questionable charities, but then there are flat-out scams.
Know the tricks of the trade
As Consumerist notes, a favorite trick used by scammers is using authentic-looking websites and charity names that are very similar to actual charities, so beware of that scam. If a telephone solicitor pressures you to donate, that should be a red flag. If you’ve never heard of the charity asking for your money or the cause it represents, it’s best to keep your wallet in your pocket.
Next: This is the easy part.
Do your research
If you are looking to make a donation, it pays to do your research. Luckily, you have plenty of resources at your disposal. As we have seen, Charity Navigator is one of them, but it’s not the only one. Some others include:
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