I received an email this morning -- and I'm not angry at the person who sent it, honestly kiddo, you know I like you -- about how to choose where your philanthropic dollars go. The email did make me really angry, on a number of levels, because it was so very wrong, and because I can see it going viral and screwing up a lot of good campaigns with misinformation.
The premise of the email was to list major charities whose directors have very high salaries, pointing out how obscene it is that these people who work in charity make this much money. The premise itself has a very major flaw: it assumes that people who work in the not-for-profit sector shouldn't be interested in making money.
Taken out of context, high pay for charitable work seems obscene, I know. But put it in context: would you rather have someone who earns five hundred thousand dollars a year but pulls in thirty million in charitable donations, or someone who earns twenty thousand a year but only pulls in thirty thousand? These people are incredibly good at what they do, and if they were working in the private sector they would be making eight figure salaries easy, and none of the money the company earns would go to charity -- or if it did, it would be a donation and a write-off. Part of their high salary is that they're worth it, and part of it is that the high salary is what keeps them in the business. I know this is true because it's a reality I work with every day in my job.
This email also screams propaganda, because it lists three secular charities and one religious charity, and then tells the reader that the religious charity is implicitly better. When you see something like this, especially something uncited, pay attention.
Let me pull this apart for you piece by piece.
If you are donating to charities this season, please look at this. As you open your pockets for yet another natural disaster, keep these facts in mind:
Marsha J. Evans, President and CEO of the American Red Cross... Salary was $651,957 plus expenses. (That's $74.42 an hour For EVERY hour of EVERY day.)
It's also not true. Easily confirmed at Charity Navigator, for the 2009 fiscal year, Gail J. McGovern is the President and CEO. She makes $446,867 per year, which is 0.01% of all American Red Cross expenses. When you give a dollar to the Red Cross, she gets one hundredth of one cent of that dollar.
Brian Gallagher, President of the United Way receives a $375,000 base salary, plus numerous expense benefits. (That's $42.80 an hour for EVERY Hour of EVERY day.)
This is also inaccurate, though in the other direction: Brian Gallagher made $982,768 in the 2008 fiscal year. Seems like a lot? It's 1.7% of all United Way expenses. For every dollar you donate, he gets a little under two cents.
UNICEF CEO receives $1,200,000 per year plus all expenses and a ROLLS ROYCE where ever he goes and only cents of your dollar goes to the cause. (That's $1369.86 an hour for EVERY hour of EVERY day.)
Incredibly untrue, and not a little smelly, given they can't even name the CEO and have no citations to support the Rolls Royce assertion, which is difficult to verify. The United States Fund for UNICEF spends 91% of its intake on "the cause"; that means 91 cents per dollar go to help people. Which admittedly is "only cents", but you try administering a multinational charity that deals primarily in livestock without needing nine cents to pay your bills.
Caryl M. Stern, the president and CEO of UNICEF, makes $419,832 per year, which is 0.08% of total expenses.
The Salvation Army's Commissioner Todd Bassett receives a salary of only $13,000 per year (plus housing) for managing this $2 billion dollar organisation.
If you search for the Salvation Army on charitynavigator.org, you won't find it. The Salvation Army won't release its financial records. (This is perfectly legal; they are registered as a church and have this right.) So nobody actually can confirm this.
As for housing....well, that's not exactly small change.
The Salvation Army is a religious institution, unlike UNICEF, the United Way, and the American Red Cross, which are secular. Quoting from the linked site: Its mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination.
Without "discrimination", The Salvation Army believes that intimacy outside of marriage is a sin, and thus while "The Salvation Army does not consider same-sex orientation blameworthy in itself" it believes "Christians whose sexual orientation is primarily or exclusively same-sex are called upon to embrace celibacy as a way of life" because "There is no scriptural support for same-sex unions as equal to, or as an alternative to, heterosexual marriage." So if you're gay, no sex for you. Oh, and no marriage, despite the fact that gay couples who are unmarried pay higher taxes and have no medical visiting rights, among other loss of rights.
Salvation Army shelters are open to gays and lesbians, but if I were gay and making use of a Sallie Army shelter, I wouldn't noise around my sexuality.
To sum up: when people ask you for money, be critical. Know who's getting your money, know what they believe, and if you can't get hard facts, be suspicious. Most charities are listed on charitynavigator.org and have a website; they will have mission statements and should have financial information.
It's your money and your choice. You are free to support who you wish. But I hope when and if you do, you do it with intelligence and open eyes. Don't give money to people who won't make public where it goes, and don't let uncited meme emails tell you how to give.