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The 10 worst charities

An analysis by the Center for Investigative Reporting and a newspaper identifies organizations that fattened solicitors' wallets.

By Mitch Lipka Jun 13, 2013 3:54PM
Image: Business man with open hand out © Le Club Symphonie, Cultura, Getty ImagesWhen you give money to charity, it's reasonable to expect the money will go to, well, the charity. But there's an entire industry of "charities" that are masterful at raising money that overwhelmingly goes to the paid companies that do the fundraising.

The Center for Investigative Reporting and the St. Petersburg, Fla., Tampa Bay Times examined the tax records of 6,000 charities that used paid fundraisers and identified the 50 worst in America. None of the 50, which, combined, paid solicitors nearly $1 billion of $1.3 billion raised over the past decade, gave more than 11 cents on the dollar to those who were supposed to benefit, the investigation found.

In some cases, such as with the Cancer Fund of America, if you donated $20, less than 20 cents of your contribution actually went the organization's cause. Among the 50 worst charities, the average amount that went to the cause itself was about 4 cents of every dollar donated. 

Some of these charities have been flagged before -- an indication that even after word has gotten out about how they do business, many consumers aren't aware that practically none of their donation is being used in a charitable way.

Typically, charity rating organizations want to see fundraising costs no higher than 35%, and many major charities are far below that. St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and Make-A-Wish Foundation of America spent 19% and 15%, respectively, on fundraising, according to data published by the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance.

Many of the charities that poured money from donors into the bank accounts of for-profit solicitation companies have names that sound similar to respected national charities and typically have easy-to-support causes as part of their names, including "breast cancer," "firefighters" and "children's cancer."

Here are the 10 worst charities in America from the list compiled by the Center for Investigative Reporting and the Tampa Bay Times, along with the percentage of money raised that went to the supposed cause:

  1. Kids Wish Network (2.5%)
  2. Cancer Fund of America (0.9%)
  3. Children's Wish Foundation International (10.8%)
  4. American Breast Cancer Foundation (5.3%)
  5. Firefighters Charitable Foundation (8.4%)
  6. Breast Cancer Relief Foundation (2.2%)
  7. International Union of Police Associations (0.5%)
  8. National Veterans Service Fund (7.8%)
  9. American Association of State Troopers (8.6%)
  10. Children's Cancer Fund of America (5.3%)
The charities were ranked based on how much money they spent on solicitors. Kids Wish Network paid about $110 million of $128 million raised to fundraisers, the report said.

Groups like these tend to rely on telephone solicitations to collect donations. Some are little more than fronts for the companies that raise the money. Every time a consumer makes a donation to the "charity," the bulk of it stays with the company that made the pitch.

Here are some tips to avoid donating to for-profit telephone solicitation operation when your intention was to support charity:
  • Don't make a donation on a call from a fundraiser. A legitimate charity will be more than happy to accept a donation on your time frame through a means you feel comfortable with, whether it's by mailing a check or using a credit card online.
  • If you're interested in a charity, take the time to find out how it plans to spend donated money.
  • Research the charity before you donate, using charity evaluation sites including GuideStar, the BBB Wise Giving Alliance and Charity Navigator.
  • Use the Internet to see what other people have said about the charity.

More from MSN Money:

Jun 13, 2013 4:13PM
These charities ought to be SHUT DOWN.  It's despicable the way they are handling their funds. 
Jun 13, 2013 5:18PM

Give locally to your church or food pantry!


Jun 13, 2013 5:26PM
Another BIG one is United Way.  I am on the fundraising committee for a non-profit which serves homeless families throughout the country.  The local United Way agency recently reneged on their planned and  promised donation of more than $20,000 this year.  Like so many other big nonprofits, their officers receive huge salaries, more than enough to live a comfortable life  Shouldn't the bulk of donations go to the agencies that are specified by the donor?  I almost lost a job in the 1980s because I refused to donate even one dollar to the Untied Way through payroll deduction.  My employer finally gave up trying to intimidate me.  They were crooked then, they haven't changed.  Before you donate to any charity, check them out, pay a visit if it is local. 
Jun 13, 2013 4:45PM
Should be laws as to the percentage they give if they want  charitable status and tax exemption.
Jun 13, 2013 5:23PM



sounds like you have had a bad experience with the Salvation Army. sorry to hear that.

I know when I was a child and an F-5 tornado hit Lubbock TX, they were there, we lost everything, they

came and helped us clean up what was left of our house, gave us food, water, clothing, and even

toys. they gave us hope.

Jun 13, 2013 5:23PM
donate to ypur local food bank and help feed the people who need it.
Jun 13, 2013 5:25PM
St Judes, Wounded Warriors, DAV, and Salvation Army..........
Jun 13, 2013 4:30PM
This is why I never give to charities. I prefer to give directly fo someone who needs help and I never give to anyone on a street corner holding up a sign
Jun 13, 2013 5:28PM
Even the more reputable charities are letting administrative expenses get out of control.  When Elizabeth Dole was spokesperson for Red Cross, she was paid $1,000,000/yr.  It's a charity people, you should do it just to help.  Won't happen, money rules!
Jun 13, 2013 5:33PM
Is it possible to arrange free public housing for the sponsors/officers of such? Like jail?
Jun 13, 2013 5:34PM
Here is the biggest thing with having a 503 (c) charitable fund. As long as you give money to the people who are suppose to get it, it is a legal fund. to solve this problem is to pass a law which states the funds must give a minimum of say... 51% of the donations taken from patrons. Let's see those inflated salaries of the CEO's and President's of the funds go away and the money go to the real benfactors... the people who deserve it.
Jun 13, 2013 5:31PM
My well intended donation to ONE entity resulted in 37 solicitors sending me requests for money...some of whom I never heard of. 
Jun 13, 2013 5:42PM

I taught my sons to give by their actions.


When it's over a 110 degrees here in Las Vegas we stop what we're doing and go to Costco there we buy up a few cases of water and head for the parks..


We pass out the water to all of the homeless that we can find, but it's dangerous..

One time my son went by himself and he was almost overcome by a group of homeless..     


He gave them hell and told them he couldn't understand how they could treat someone who was trying to help  and that they should be ashamed of the way they were attempting to do harm  to him. He said "Dad they wanted to rob me or worse"


So even when you try to help others in need "Watch out"..Go in parts and trust no one..But above all don't let a few people make you rethink your actions of kindness..

Jun 13, 2013 5:31PM
What about Red Cross and FEMA?  Our home was severly damaged in the May 20th, 2013 tornado In OK and we have been denied assistance...Why...because we are military had to move, have been unable to sell it, and it is no longer our primary home.  We don't need much financial assistance thanks for our insurance, but our insurance is not covering all of it.  The Red Cross keeps giving us the run around and FEMA...well at least they told us flat out we don't qualify because its not our primary home.  Well, it the only home we own.  We still have the make the mortgage payments, as well as our rent at our new duty station. 
Jun 13, 2013 5:24PM
I only donate to local charities that I have reserched.That way I know my hard earned money goes to help my community and the homeless pets in my community.
Jun 13, 2013 4:16PM
It would be a great public service for legitimate charities to contact these donors directly and tell them what's going on!
Jun 13, 2013 4:59PM
I have absolutely no problem giving to charities; I give what I can afford. I like helping others or helping our planet (I give to both environmental causes and to charities that help people). However, I am always very careful. I research the charities to see how the money is being distributed. Most of the time you can find out online how their money is spent and if it is spent well, then I'll give what I can afford. Of course there has to be some overhead (website expenses, advertising, etc.) but it better not be excessive.
Jun 13, 2013 4:31PM
Pretty sure I am going to give to a part of the United Nations. Our best friend in the world. (Sarcasm)
Jun 13, 2013 5:55PM

The ASPCA that uses those tear-jerker commercials on national TV with their spokesperson Sarah McLachlan should be banned as well. They take in hundreds of millions each year as a direct result of their deceptive ads which lead viewers to believe they are a national organization when in-fact they are the New York City SPCA and give little or no money nationally. In 2009 they took in over 600 million and gave about $300,000 to other SPCA's around the country.


If you want to donate to animal (or any) charities give locally and ignore national ad campaigns.

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