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Disadvantaged Donors? Untangling the Truth Behind Locks of Love

Disadvantaged Donors? Untangling the Truth Behind Locks of Love

My wife has long, flowing brunette hair. Every few years she has a length of it cut off with the intention of donating the hair to Locks of Love, a charity claiming to provide wigs for children who are either undergoing cancer treatments or are afflicted with some form of alopecia, a category of conditions which cause baldness. While her donations remain in a Ziploc bag in our closet, it would be understandable for someone who had casual knowledge of Locks of Love to believe all donations of hair would be used to create wigs to help such children in need. However, to expect your donations of hair to always end up on the head of a child in need is to set yourself up for disappointment. Unfortunately, a large percentage of the hair donated will be sold to commercial wig-makers, and the few donations of hair which do end up on a sick or dying child’s head will only arrive after the parents have agreed to an income-based payment for the hairpiece.

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Locks of Love

With their designation as a not-for-profit, 501(c)(3) charity by the IRS, Locks of Love has made it their mission to “return a sense of self-confidence and normalcy to children suffering from hair loss by utilizing donated ponytails to provide the highest quality of hair prosthetic to financially disadvantaged children.” The troublesome issues arise when attempts are made to actually account for the hair donated. According to a May 13, 2013 article on Forbes.com, around $6 million worth of donations to Locks of Love go unaccounted for every year. This takes into account claims by the organization that it takes six to ten donations to create a single hairpiece, and 80% of the hair donations received by Locks of Love are unusable for this purpose. Kent Chao from the firm Nonprofit Investor figures there should still be a minimum of 2,080 hairpieces created by Locks of Love each year. However, in 2011, Locks of Love produced only 317 natural wigs, meaning only 3% of the hair donations received by Locks of Love ended up on the heads of disadvantaged children.

An article by Sydney Lumpkin published by ABCNews on May 16, 2013, calls into question some of the methodology used by Nonprofit Investor. However, the questions being raised do not address the primary concern that hair donations are not being used for the purposes assumed when people make the donations. Locks of Love founder Madonna Coffman admitted in the ABCNews article that Locks of Love sold $500,000 worth of its hair donations in 2011, presumably not to disadvantaged children.

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Despite the questions raised by various entities regarding use of donations, Locks of Love is an accredited charity with the Better Business Bureau, and there is only one complaint filed against the company on RipOffReport.com – an uncontested warning from a 14-year-old Gibsonia, Pennsylvania, resident who suffers from alopecia and claims to have personally dealt with Locks of Love. Posted on May 16, 2005, her warning echoes many concerns since repeated by others. If you have had any experiences with Locks of Love, feel free to share in the comments.

Bottom Line

Locks of Love is a charitable organization that creates hairpieces for disadvantaged youth who have conditions which cause hair loss. As recent as 2013, the organization has been accused of using a very small percentage of hair donations to actually create hairpieces for disadvantaged children. As with any charitable organization, it would be prudent to learn exactly how your donation will be used before contributing.

For more information, please see the follow-up article Locks of Love Redux: Addressing Reader Concerns Regarding Hair Donation.

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Randal A. Burd Jr. is a freelance writer, educator, and poet from Missouri. He is also a Kentucky Colonel and a genealogy enthusiast.

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