These 15 Organizations Probably Aren’t as Wholesome as You Think
They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. We start out with a goal of making a positive change in the world — and sometimes we succeed. Other times, though, we get sidetracked. Things get out of control, and we end up doing more harm than good. Or, as another popular saying goes, you either die the hero or live long enough to become the villain. That’s the reality for executives and founders of many charities and nonprofits in America.
These organizations start with good intentions. But as organizations grow, things get more complicated. You need talented people to help steer the ship, and those people want to be paid handsomely. They need staff members who want parties. And large organizations also need to keep the revenue streams open, which sometimes requires attention-grabbing stunts or advertisements.
The following organizations all play some sort of vital role, be it raising awareness for a disease or simply warning consumers about shady businesses. But before you donate or spend money on these organizations, know where your money could be going.
1. The Better Business Bureau
- It has more than 100 regional bureaus and a national office — and raked in $200 million in 2013.
You have probably seen the Better Business Bureau’s little flyers around. Many businesses will put a sign in their windows that says “BBB approved!” or something similar. But you might be surprised to learn the BBB is not an official or government organization. It’s just a private company that makes money by taking complaints and selling “approvals” to business owners. A CNNMoney investigation found the BBB makes the bulk of its money by selling “memberships” to companies for prices as high as $10,000 per year.
Next: A nonprofit focusing on autism
2. Autism Speaks
- Autism Speaks is despised among certain segments of the autism community.
Founded in 2005, Autism Speaks is a leading organization helping to bring awareness to autism and raising funds for research. It’s rife with problems, though, as many in the autism community dislike it. The group’s influence has even reached the White House. But the main issue is the autism community is unhappy with how it’s portrayed through the organization’s work. And, like many other nonprofits and associated groups, much of the money it takes in ends up diverted away from research and outreach efforts.
Next: From an organization specializing in autism to one that focuses on breast cancer
3. The Susan G. Komen For the Cure
- The foundation famous for its pink ribbons actually sues other charities for using pink ribbons — because that’s what’s important.
If there’s one charity or nonprofit organization that’s come under fire over the past several years, it’s this one. Susan G. Komen For the Cure is the organization behind most of the breast cancer awareness campaigns you see. It’s behind the pink ribbons, most notably. But it has been criticized for spending big on executives and funneling relatively little to breast cancer research. Also, it has been filing lawsuits against other charities for using the color pink.
Next: The site you use for reviews could probably withstand a bit more reviewing itself.
- Yelp’s model runs similar to the BBB, but it has struggled to remain profitable.
Yelp has found itself in trouble, as more people have become privy to how it operates. Yelp, of course, is a review site where people can leave reviews for businesses. But the company has been accused of shaking down those businesses in order to leave good reviews up or take the bad ones down. It can ruin a company’s reputation — with the exception, of course, of its own.
Next: Your clothing donations might be funding a cult.
5. Planet Aid
- Tvind, a Danish cult, funds itself partly through Planet Aid, which uses yellow bins to collect donations.
The yellow bins you toss old clothing into might be funneling funding to a cult. Planet Aid, a charity group that also takes in taxpayer dollars, has been found to be connected to Tvind, a shady cult-like organization that sells the donated clothes for a profit. An NBC investigation found the group made more than $42 million in 2013. The money gets funneled up to an organization called Teachers Group, which then pays outsized salaries to its founders and leaders.
Next: The worst jingle you’ve ever heard is associated with an organization that’s equally as bad.
- 1-8-7-7-save your money.
You know Kars4Kids because of the jingle. And when you hear it, odds are you think, “Oh, how nice. It’s finding transportation for needy children.” That’s how it hooks you. The truth, though, is it’s yet another organization vying for your money and attention. And it has been investigated for overstating just how much charity work it has done. According to KARE in Minnesota, the group received more than $3 million worth of donated vehicles in the state between 2012 and 2014. But of that, only $11,600 was put to charitable use.
Next: An organization that claims to help animals
- PETA has done a lot for animal welfare but has been criticized on a number of fronts.
A lot of people don’t like PETA for the simple fact that they like cheeseburgers. And while PETA — People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals — has a mission that many find admirable, there are some issues associated with it that have rubbed people the wrong way. PETA has been criticized for using outrageous and controversial advertisements to get attention, for example. Another common gripe is that PETA euthanizes a lot of animals that end up in its shelters. It does euthanize — but as an act of mercy.
Next: Possibly the biggest lightning rod on our list
8. The National Rifle Association
- The year after the Sandy Hook massacre, the NRA’s profits (or “surpluses”) increased 2,750%.
This one is a lightning rod. But let’s not forget that the National Rifle Association has a stated goal of promoting gun safety. The issue is it’s become something more than that. These days, it’s mostly a political organization. And every time something happens related to guns, you can count on the NRA to jump into the fray. People pour money into it, and a lot of that money ends up using scare tactics to keep gun sales up and manufacturers’ stock prices high (see: the Obama years). It’s also been behind some incredibly strange recruiting videos calling for armed revolution and violence.
Next: Not even sports are free from controversy.
- FIFA has refused to act as 2022 World Cup host Qatar has used slave labor to build soccer stadiums, resulting in deaths. And Qatar doesn’t even have a soccer team.
Like the NRA, this one probably isn’t going to be much of a surprise. FIFA isn’t a charity, but it does hold a relatively large amount of power as the organizing body around the world’s most popular sport. It’s also incredibly corrupt. FIFA’s corruption scandal led to indictments from the U.S. Justice Department, as well as criminal investigations in Europe. Hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes changed hands, and now we have the 2022 World Cup in Qatar — already a budding disaster — to look forward to.
Next: The group that destroyed Peru’s famed Nazca Lines, all for a publicity stunt
- Greenpeace has an annual operating budget of around $75 million.
Most people know Greenpeace by reputation — and that reputation is they’re a bunch of hippies. That’s not entirely incorrect, but Greenpeace does a lot to try to promote positive change. But, like all of our other organizations, it has screwed up many times, too. Most recently, Greenpeace activists trampled the Nazca Lines in Peru, causing untold amounts of damage. They’ve also accidentally helped spread malaria by discouraging people from using certain pesticides and used anti-GMO rhetoric to scare people away from eating perfectly good food, many of whom were in desperate need.
Next: This group hates drinking.
11. Mothers Against Drunk Driving
- MADD isn’t merely opposed to driving after drinking. It doesn’t like drinking at all.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving is another group with a mission that’s pretty easy to support. But over the years, the group has gone through a transformation. These days, when public transportation and ride-sharing have made it easier than ever to get home from the bar, the group has become more focused on fighting drinking in general. It tries to start fights with video game developers, all while its executives get busted for driving under the influence.
Next: Perhaps the one group on our list that will sting the most
12. The Wounded Warrior Project
- Like many other charities and nonprofits, the Wounded Warrior Project is being criticized for its lavish spending on parties and salaries for executives.
The Wounded Warrior Project is an organization meant to help wounded combat veterans return to normal life. Unfortunately, we’re finding out it’s doing less of that and more of what’s sinking other nonprofits: inflating salaries for executives and puffing itself up. A CBS News investigation found the group does spend 60% of its donated money on vets, but that figure pales in comparison to similar charities. Disabled American Veterans Charitable Service Trust allocates 96% of its budget to vets, for example, and Fisher House donates 91%.
Next: When a charity wreath is a bit more than it seems
13. Wreaths Across America
- The organization takes in money to buy wreaths, but where it buys them is the main issue.
It’s not a huge organization, but Wreaths Across America is most well known for putting wreaths on soldiers’ graves during the holiday months. That includes laying wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery. The problem, however, is the group takes in a lot of money (people “sponsor” wreaths) and then relies on volunteers to lay them. All the while, the Worcester family — which started the operation as a for-profit enterprise — rakes in all the money, or 70%, according to the group’s tax returns. And it buys all the wreaths from a family member.
Next: A group helping people kick addictions is affiliated with a controversial religious group.
- Narconon is a drug rehab program that’s affiliated with the Church of Scientology.
You’d think Narconon is similar to or associated with Narcotics Anonymous. They both aim to do the same thing — help people kick their drug addictions — but Narconon has a bit of a twist. It is affiliated with the Church of Scientology and was started back in the 1960s using L. Ron Hubbard’s texts to help people with addiction recovery. Yet Scientology has attracted criticism, including from ex-members like Leah Remini, who called it “a multi-billion dollar church, corporation, empire and cult,” while Narconon faced scrutiny after several deaths at its treatment facility in Oklahoma.
Next: The organization everyone opens their wallets for whenever disaster strikes.
15. The Red Cross
It’s hard to go after the Red Cross. The organization does do a lot of good, after all. Whenever and wherever there’s a natural disaster, the Red Cross is there. But the organization has become increasingly corporatized over the years, and investigations are finding the money that pours in through donations is often not making it to those who need it. As a result, the Red Cross is becoming leaner but more financially sound — which is good, but even better for its executives and officers expecting raises.
Correction: A previous version of this article contained incorrect information about the relationship between PETA and peta2.
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