December 23, 2008

Responsible Giving

'Tis the season to give.

And, now is the time when many people generously give of their money, time, old clothing, old toys, etc. But, how many of us do research on the organizations to which we give? Sure, some organizations make it easier than others -- I'm thinking of the number of yellow boxes I pass in store parking lots with the Planet Aid sign. In Massachusetts, where it feels like Dunkin' Donuts outnumbers cars on the road, I see more Planet Aid boxes than any other charity box.

They make it so easy! I put a bag of clothing in my car, and whenever I pass the first yellow box, I generously put my clothes into the bin.

Yet, according to Charity Watch, an independent organization that gives ratings on the financial responsibility of charities:

A charity may even count its primary solicitation activity as a charitable program. For instance, Planet Aid, a nonprofit group famous for its yellow outdoor collection boxes, calls the cost of collecting worn clothes, which it later sells, a program service expense. Its tax form states that its purpose is "To support development projects ... and protection of natural habitat through the recycling of used clothing." It would be like Wal-Mart claiming that its main purpose is to help low-income people have a higher standard of living by selling them less expensive merchandise. Planet Aid raises almost all of its funds by selling the donated items, rather than giving them to needy people. It only distributed $8,000 of donated goods of the $8.7 million it spent in 2004, according to its most recently available tax form. Planet Aid's 2004 audit reports two program service expenses: $6.6 million of "Clothing collection" and $2 million of "International Aid."

Seriously? $8,000 was given to help the needy?

While I wasn't aware of Charity Watch, I had heard a few years back about Planet Aid's practices. And, since then, I've been quite vigilant about spreading the word about GOOD and RESPONSIBLE charities out there.

So, please, if you're taking the time to go through your closets (and we all know how long that takes!), take the extra 2 minutes to go to Charity Watch and view the rating of the organization to which you're sending your donation. After all, we're donating to be socially responsible - why not go with a charity that is.