‘Graft’ has many definitions, and I guess is most commonly used in horticulture and surgical circles.

But here’s the definition that applies in fundraising circles: ‘Money gained by unscrupulous means.’ Unfortunately that definition doesn’t quite reach to outright fraud.

So, on the one hand, I was pleased to see Suzanne Perry’s update in the Chronicle of Philanthropy on reactions in our sector to the publication by the Tampa Bay Times and the Center for Investigative Reporting of their work on America’s “50 Worst Charities”.

However, I was not at all pleased to see so many in the charity and fundraising biz actually disparage the work, some arguing that it simply reinforced an inappropriate obsession with overhead costs.

Clearly these apologists didn’t actually examine the amazing depth of research done.

This was not some amateurish, superficial look at cost of fundraising as against proceeds going to program.

As Suzanne noted:

“The project did not focus on overhead per se. It aimed to select the 50 charities that sent the biggest percentage of the money they raised to for-profit solicitors over 10 years. It included only groups that paid those companies the bulk of the money raised in at least 75 percent of all campaigns over the years …

“The charities on the ’50 worst’ list sent almost $1-billion to commercial solicitors and spent an average of less than 4 cents on direct cash aid to the needy over a decade, the investigation found.”

These are not bad apples … these are rotten apples. Some of these folks belong in jail.

Here’s the ‘headquarters’ of #1 on the list, Kids Wish Network, which last year raised $18.6 million and spent just $240,000 granting wishes.

But what do the ‘leaders’ of our sector say?

“[We’re] seeing what can be learned.”

“The 50 organizations in the list are such extreme cases that they are not representative of what a typical charity looks like or how it operates.”

It’s just the work of two reporters … headline grabbing … “suspect to me from the start”. [Such a dumb, disappointing comment from an otherwise hero, Dan Pallotta.]

The president of Independent Sector said she didn’t have enough information to make a judgment, adding: ““You’re making an assumption these are bad operators, and I don’t make that assumption at all.”


To her I say: I know you must be really busy as a leader of our sector, bolstering public confidence in nonprofits and all that, but please, take a day off and read the full research compiled by the reporting team!

None of these leaders had word one to say about redressing this situation with tough, monitored and enforced standards of practice, coupled with public shaming of charities and fundraising firms who operate in this manner.

Shame on you!

Meantime, legitimate charities, whose names are often mongrelized by the imposters — e.g., Make A Wish, the good guys, becomes Kids Wish — must spend time, energy, money defending their well-earned reputations to confused donors.

I note that Perry’s article reports that the investigative team, having asked the public to share tips on ‘suspicious charities’, has received about 275 suggestions, “including requests to examine some ‘well-respected’ organizations”.

Personally, I hope the team digs into every one of these. I hope some foundation or philanthropist comes along and gives them a million bucks or so to keep up their probing.

Clearly, no one among our sector’s ‘trade groups’ is inclined to investigate and ostracize these sleazebags.


P.S. Here and here is what kick-butt Roger had to say when the report first came out!

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