Hoaxes & Rumors

True or False: “Think Before You Donate” Charity Claims

True or False: “Think Before You Donate” Charity Claims
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Today we look at a graphic entitled “Think Before You Donate” which claims to compare the annual salaries of multiple charity executives.

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Analysis of “Think Before You Donate” Graphic

A graphic called “Think Before You Donate” allegedly compares the earnings of several charities’ executives. It encourages readers to only donate to those with lower-paid administrators.

"Think Before You Donate" charity graphic

The first part of the claim presents five charities in a negative light. We’ll take a look at all of these claims first. To make it an even playing field among all the claims below, we’ll list executive compensation and program expense percentage for all charities below, even if they aren’t mentioned for a specific charity in the claims. Program expense is the amount spent on the cause for which they exist.

Note: The figures below are as of November 2014.

Charities Presented Negatively by the Graphic

American Red Cross

  • Graphic Claim: President and CEO Marsha J. Evans’ salary for the year was $651,957 plus expenses 
  • Facts: Marsha J. Evans was CEO of the American Red Cross from 2002-2005. In December 2005 she received a severance package of $780,000. This included 18 months of salary plus $36,495 in an unpaid bonus. Based on this figure, this would work out to about $495,000 per year. The current CEO and President, Gail J. McGovern, actually earned more than claimed above, at $1,032,022 in 2009. Nonetheless, the Charity Navigator link below lists her compensation for 2013 at $564,864.
  • Program Expenses: 90.4%

March of Dimes

  • Graphic Claim: It is called March of Dimes because only a dime for every 1 dollar is given to the needy.
  • Facts: The National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis was founded in 1938 and was nicknamed the “March of Dimes” after fundraisers which requested that each child donate a dime (the name was officially changed years later). It should be noted that in 2012 President Jennifer Howse received a salary of $526,679.
  • Program Expenses: 66%76%

The United Way

  • Graphic Claim: President Brian Gallagher receives a $375,000 base salary along with numerous expense benefits.
  • Facts: As of 2012, President and CEO Brian Gallagher actually made more than claimed, at $1,220,305.
  • Program Expenses: 90%90.6% 

Unicef

  • Graphic Claim: CEO Caryl M Stern receives $1,200,000 per year ($100k per month) plus all expenses including a Rolls Royce. Less than 5 cents of your donated dollar goes to the cause.
  • Facts: President and CEO Caryl M. Stern’s compensation is currently listed at $476,001 for 2013. There is no source or evidence to support the Rolls Royce claim.
  • Program Expenses: 90%91.1% 
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Goodwill

  • Graphic Claim: CEO and owner Mark Curran profits $2.3 million a year. Goodwill is a very catchy name for his business. You donate to his business and then he sells the items for PROFIT. He pays nothing for his products and pays his workers minimum wage! Nice guy. $0.00 goes to help anyone! Stop giving to this man.
  • Facts: This claim is completely false. According to the Goodwill website in 2013: “82 percent of Goodwill’s revenues go directly into employment and training programs for people with disabilities and other barriers to employment!” Jim Gibbons is the CEO of Goodwill Industries International and his compensation in 2011 was reported to be $729,310. Goodwill has refuted some of the claims from the “Think Before You Donate” graphic here.
  • Program Expenses:  92%

Charities Presented Positively by the Graphic

The next set of charities are presented in the graphic in a positive light, shown in contrast to those listed above. It should be noted that some of these veterans organizations have fundraising foundations, which are not the same as the parent organization.

It should also be noted that, despite the claims below, none of the charities here give 100% of all donations to their causes.

The Salvation Army

  • Graphic Claim: Commissioner Todd Bassett receives a small salary of only $13,000 per year (plus housing) for managing this $2 billion dollar organization. 96 percent of donated dollars go to the cause.
  • Facts: A November 2011 BBB report showed that National Commander William A. Roberts actually received $126,920 in compensation.
  • Program Expenses: 84%

The American Legion

  • Graphic Claim: National Commander receives a $0.00 zero salary. Your donations go to help Veterans and their families and youth!
  • Facts:  In 2009, the three officers listed on form 990 were compensated $201,611, $152,618, and $162,787.
  • Program Expenses:  Did not disclose.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars

  • Graphic Claim: National Commander receives a $0.00 zero salary. Your donations go to help Veterans and their families and youth!
  • Facts:  A 2010 report showed the top compensation for the VFW to be $238,211. The Veterans of Foreign Wars Foundation is the official charity for the VFW. The director of the Foundation is John G. Lowe, who is not compensated directly, but received $89,250 in compensation from affiliates in 2013.
  • Program Expenses: 86%

The Disabled American Veterans

  • Graphic Claim: National Commander receives a $0.00 zero salary. Your donations go to help Veterans and their families and youth!
  • Facts:  The current National Commander of the Disabled American Veterans is Larry A. Polzin. Chairman of the DAV Charitable Service Trust is Richard E. Marbes. As of 2012, no compensation has been reported for leadership.
  • Program Expenses: 76%93.5% (We are still looking into the reason for the discrepancy between figures as reported by give.org and charitynavigator.org)

The Military Order of Purple Hearts

  • Graphic Claim: National Commander receives a $0.00 zero salary. Your donations go to help Veterans and their families and youth!
  • Facts:  According to 2009 financial statements, Former Executive Director Gregory A. Bresser received a $40,000 severance payment. CFO Stephen L. Ruckman received $150,626.
  • Program Expenses:  Did not disclose.

The Vietnam Veterans Association

  • Graphic Claim: National Commander receives a $0.00 zero salary. Your donations go to help Veterans and their families and youth!
  • Facts:  There is no known “Vietnam Veterans Association.” The Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, AKA Veterans for America, paid President John Rowan $69,874 and CFO/Staff Director Joseph Sternburg $137,902 in 2009.
  • Program Expenses:  Did not disclose.

Make a Wish

  • Graphic Claim: For children’s last wishes. 100% goes to funding trips or special wishes for a dying child.
  • Facts:  In 2013, David A. Williams, CEO and President, was compensated $479,676 .
  • Program Expenses: 73.3%81%

St. Jude’s Research Hospital

  • Graphic Claim: 100% goes towards funding and helping Children with Cancer who have no insurance and cannot afford to pay.
  • Facts: The 100% claim is not even supported by St. Jude, which stated on their on their website in 2013, “During the past five years, 81 cents of every dollar received has supported the research and treatment at St. Jude.” However, this quote no longer appears on the website when revisited in November of 2014. CEO William E. Evans received compensation of $824,000 according to a 2011 form 990. Charity Navigator reports that CEO William E. Evans was compensated $941,143 in 2013.
  • Program Expenses:  69.3%73%

Ronald McDonald Houses

  • Graphic Claim: All monies go to running the houses for parents who have critical Children in the hospital. 100% goes to housing and feeding the families.
  • Facts:  President and CEO J. C. Gonzalez-Mendez is not compensated.
  • Program Expenses: 79%89% 

Lions Club International

  • 100% of donations go to help the blind buy hearing aides, support medical missions around the world. Their latest undertaking is measles vaccinations (only $1.00 per shot).
  • Facts:  Executive Director Peter Lynch received no direct compensation, but did receive $226,049  in affiliate compensations for 2013. The organization does have a measles prevention campaign.
  • Program Expenses: 83.7% 

“Think Before You Donate” on Google Trends

Google Trends shows a graph revealing search interests in “Think Before You Donate”. As one can see, searches for this phrase peaked in February of 2013 when this post was originally published, and surged again in November of 2013 before dropping off.

Bottom Line

The “Think Before You Donate” graphic claim attempts to categorize good and bad charities, however there aren’t as many differences between them as we are led to believe. Most charities have high-paid executives, and all the charities listed above incur expense costs that prevent them from using 100% of all monies collected toward their causes.

You should definitely research a charity before you donate, just as you should research online warnings such as these before you believe them.

Revised November 24, 2014
Originally published February 2013

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